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Rental Application Essentials

The importance of crafting an efficient rental application cannot be understated during tenant screening. 

A rental application is the first step in weeding out unqualified candidates and identifying ideal ones.

Your rental application must include specific information and elicit other types of information from prospective tenants in order to be effective. By asking the right questions up front, you can ensure you find great candidates for your rental units.

Here are the essential elements to include in your rental applications.

Basic Contact Information

The first question on any rental application should ask for basic contact information. 

Start by asking for the applicant’s full name, email address, and cell phone number. Some landlords also ask for a driver’s license number or social security number (SSN). However, you should use caution when asking for SSNs, because there are strict laws around how landlords must handle this kind of sensitive information.

Residence Information and Rental History

Secondly, ask for your tenants’ current and prior residence information and rental history.

In general, five years of rental history will provide enough information to evaluate an applicant’s renting habits and history. There’s much to learn here – You may find that the tenant is a consistent long-term renter, or you might learn that an applicant has moved much more often and will be less reliable as a long-term candidate.

You should also verify the information an applicant provides by asking for references. Ask for the names of all current and previous landlords, as well as their contact information. Follow up with these references to discover the applicant’s history and any challenges or issues the previous landlord had with them.

Employment Verification

Next, ask for current and prior employment information, as well as the names and contact information for prospective tenants’ employers. 

If an applicant lists any companies or businesses they previously worked at, reach out to them to verify employment history. Note that if the applicant is self-employed, you may not be able to complete this step.

You also may need to obtain the applicants’ consent before validating their claim of employment. 

Proof of Income

Proof of income is perhaps one of the most important components of tenant screening. Asking for proof of income (a recent paystub, a W2 document, an employment letter, or another suitable document) will help you decide in concrete terms whether an applicant can afford your rent.

When it comes to proof of income, a good rule of thumb is that an applicant should earn at least three times your rent rate each month. If an applicant can meet this standard, they probably make enough to afford your property.

Consent to Run a Background Check

A background check, while not part of a rental application, is another critical step in the tenant screening process.

However, what you do need to include in a rental application is the tenant’s consent to obtain one. Before using a service to run any tenant background check, be sure to get a signature from the tenant verifying that they agree to the criminal background check.

Required Disclosures

Finally, the last thing all landlords should include in a rental application are required disclosures.

Required disclosures are notices or descriptions of information that landlords are legally required to disclose to tenants before entering into any rental agreement.

There is only one federally mandated disclosure: lead based paint. According to federal law, landlords in all 50 states must disclose information about lead-based paint hazards in their rental agreements for older properties. Landlords must also include a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” and disclose any lead hazards they are aware of in the property.

State required disclosures vary widely, but many states require landlords to disclose the name and contact information of the owner or authorized agent, any nonrefundable fees, environmental hazards like mold or methamphetamine contamination, recent flooding, or other policies.


Whether you stick with a traditional pen-and-paper application or prefer to use your rental application online, it’s important that you don’t skip any steps. Learning as much as you can about your applicants will make your tenant screening process much simpler come time to make a final decision.


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