Tenant Screening Tip: The Rental Application Cover Letter

by Chris on February 12, 2018

The rental application is a fundamental tool for landlords when it comes to finding the right tenants. But an application is only as good as the information contained in it. One way to obtain the best information — and weed out bad tenants — is for the landlord to attach a cover letter that explains the significance of the rental application.

Here are some tips for drafting the rental application cover letter:

Tone is important because this is the first official document that the new tenant will see, so be firm but kind. Don’t be informal, funny, or chatty — that sends the wrong message. But polite and respectful words can put the applicant at ease. A tenant who is trusting of the process is more likely to provide the most complete and accurate answers.

Many property managers use a form letter or instruction sheet as a transmittal for the rental application. While this format looks official and sets a firm tone, using one of these forms is not always the most effective strategy.

Instruction sheets often are generic, with multiple check-off boxes. Not only is this confusing for the applicant, but it’s impersonal, which can discourage complete answers. Also, these forms can be intimidating. For instance, if the first line of the form is a list of all the personal documents the tenant must hand over, along with a demand for money, the applicant may become defensive. That resistance only encourages omissions and sketchy answers on the application, and turns off the best rental applicants. A letter format allows for a more personal, welcoming introduction, like:

“Thank you for your interest in the rental property located at 123 Main St. This is our rental application. Before you get started, let me explain how our process works.”

That makes the landlord’s subsequent demands more palatable — and less like a slap in the face.

The most important point to make in the cover letter is that the application is a legal document, and failure to provide complete and honest answers will be considered fraud. That can lead to the application being rejected, and may be a crime. Explain that the tenant will be asked to verify with a signature that the information is true and complete, and that each item will be verified. Warn the applicant that even if the application is approved, if it is based on false or misleading information, the tenancy may be terminated. This information should be one of the first things the applicant reads in the cover letter, and the applicant should read it before beginning to complete the application.

Explain that each adult occupant must complete a separate application based solely on that individual’s information.

Let applicants know they will be asked to consent to a tenant background check which will include a credit check, eviction and criminal histories, and confirmation of references. If the landlord cannot get in touch with the references, applicants must facilitate the reference process or the application may be denied. This will discourage applicants who were planning to bluff their way into the property by listing references who they know are unavailable.

Provide contact information and encourage the applicant to get in touch with any questions regarding the leasing process. Be approachable. Open communication will encourage truthful answers and sets the stage for a successful landlord-tenant relationship.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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