The phrase “Get it in writing” has special importance for landlords, especially when it comes to the application process. If you don’t already use a written rental application for your property, you should strongly consider implementing one right away.
One of the best reasons to use a written application is the protection it offers should someone whom you did not select as a tenant decide to pursue a discrimination claim against you. If you have documented the entire application process and the reason/s for not selecting that applicant, you can produce the application and related paperwork to prove your innocence.
A written application also makes it easier to check a tenant’s references. You’ll have all the information you need available in one place, making your job easier and less time-consuming.
Here are some important points to include in a rental application:
- Start with personal information. Get your applicant’s full name, current home address, work address, phone numbers, and Social Security number.
- Include emergency contacts. In the event of an emergency, you may need to reach your tenant’s next of kin or another family member. This information also may come in handy if you need to track down a tenant who has skipped out without paying rent.
- Ask for references. Ask for at least three different references from your applicants. You also may wish to ask for the contact information for a previous landlord.
- Ask about past problems with landlords. Ask the applicant if he or she has had problems with landlords in the past or has had trouble paying rent on time.
- Include a code of conduct. The code of conduct in the rental application must be signed and agreed upon by your applicants. This can help dispel any confusion as to what behavior is and is not acceptable and also should include expectations such as noise level, trash, and pet policy. It can also provide evidence of agreement to the code of conduct should you ever be called upon to produce it.
- State the rent and deposit amounts. Include these amounts on the written application to eliminate confusion and accusations that a lower rent amount was promised. Include the length of the rental period, if any, and timing for any possible increased in rent.
- Ask for permission to check their credit history or background. If you plan on running credit checks for your new applicants, you will need their authorization. This can be as simple as a paragraph within your application that can be signed or initialed to show acceptance. You can also use an additional document if you so choose.
Now that you know what to include in your written application, give some thought about what not to include. Do not ask questions about an applicant’s sex, race, religion, ethnicity, number of children, or disabilities. The law prevents you from using any of these factors when selecting a tenant. Such questions can also diminish your chances of successfully fending off a discrimination claim.
Once an applicant has filled out your application, photocopy his or her driver’s license or photo ID, and attach it to the application. This will not only assist you in keeping track of your applicants, but may also be necessary for credit checks.
Save all the applications, even after you have selected a tenant. A paper trail of past applicants can be very handy, should someone reapply, or file a discrimination suit. If space to store the applications is a problem, you can scan these documents into your computer. You’ll want to keep some additional applications on hand in the event the tenant whom you have chosen decides not to move into your property, or a tenant needs to break the lease after a brief period of time. In fact, maintaining a waiting list of applicants you feel would be good tenants will be helpful should a vacancy arise.
A written application is a great way to collect necessary information on your applicants, and will assist you in ensuring that there are no misunderstandings with your applicants.