There’s a lot riding on a rental application. Getting it right means staving off tenant fraud and quickly eliminating applicants who are not qualified.
To accomplish that, the application needs to contain all the requisite parts, without muddying the waters with irrelevant or illegal questions that only cause applicants to balk:
A cover letter. Do you include a cover letter or instruction sheet with the application that explains the importance of providing accurate and complete information? If not, you are missing an important opportunity to screen applicants. A simple paragraph like this can discourage applicants from providing false or misleading information:
“Thank you for applying for a vacancy with us. Please be advised that this Rental Application is a legal document. You will be asked to declare that the information you are about to provide is accurate and complete. This information will be independently verified. Providing false or misleading statements is fraud, which could result in rejection of the application or subsequent eviction, and may be a crime.”
Declaration. Although it’s at the bottom of the application, the statement that the tenant signs after completing the application declaring that the information is true and complete prevents tenant fraud. The best declaration statement will detail the consequences that the tenant will face should they provide false information. This declaration paragraph also contains the consent to run a tenant background check which includes running tenant screening reports and checking the applicant’s references.
Relevant personal information. Personal information about the applicant is necessary to verify the applicant’s identity when compared to the photo ID. This information can be used to flag identity theft or fraud in the rental application. It is important to know the applicant’s legal name, current address, cell and work phone numbers, birthdate and SIN to ensure that the tenant credit check, income references, and previous addresses line up.
Proposed Occupancy. Landlords can get into trouble by asking personal questions related to occupancy. It is important to know who will be living in the unit and to ask all adult occupants to complete a separate rental application. However, it is not necessary to ask broad questions about family relationships like whether the applicant is married or how many children the person has. The answers to these questions are not relevant to the applicant’s qualifications.
Income. Questions about income should contemplate different sources and not focus solely on employment. For instance, “additional” or “supplemental” income should be given equal status. Requiring employment income only, or a specific length of employment, may be deemed discriminatory. Allow an applicant ample space to explain his or her specific situation. In addition, be sure to request supplemental documentation that establishes that income, regardless of the source.
Previous rental history. Going back two or three years on previous addresses provides an opportunity to catch a professional tenant who may have been evicted recently. Any addresses that appear on the tenant credit report should match those provided by the applicant. Ask the applicant to include the reasons for leaving and whether notice was provided to those landlords. Remember, the applicant must answer truthfully.
Vehicle information. A helpful bit of detective work when screening tenants is to see if the car the tenant drove to the property tour is the same one the person claims to own. The licence plate number also is necessary to regulate parking at the property, and may be useful when collecting tenant debt.
References. Previous landlord references are a must-have for any applicant under serious consideration. Those names must align with the previous addresses. Emergency contact information is necessary for property management and also can be useful when tracking down the applicant.
Previous Eviction. While it’s nearly impossible to discover a previous eviction — or a long string of evictions — without reading between the lines, it never hurts to ask an applicant if that is the case. Provide room for the applicant to answer and explain his or her side of the story. Confirm this with the landlord reference.
Because of all the rental application must accomplish, it is as important as the tenancy agreement. For that reason, ask an attorney to review your rental application to ensure it is doing its job without creating any potential liabilities.
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.