Filling out a Rental Application|
Credit Checks, Holding Deposits and Application Fees
Before renting to you, most landlords will ask you to fill out a written rental application form. A rental application is different from a rental agreement. The rental application is like a job or credit application. The landlord will use it to decide whether to rent to you.
A rental application usually asks for the following information:
The application also may contain an authorization for the landlord to obtain a copy of your credit report, which will show the landlord how you have handled your financial obligations in the past.
The landlord may ask you what kind of job you have, your monthly income, and other information that shows your ability to pay the rent. It is illegal for the landlord to ask you questions about your race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, disability or whether you have persons under the age of 18 living in your household. Also, the landlord should not ask you questions about your age or medical condition. The landlord may also ask you about the number of people who will be living in the rental unit.
The landlord or the company managing the property will probably use your rental application to check your credit history and past landlord-tenant relations. The landlord may obtain your credit report from a credit reporting agency to help him or her decide whether to rent to you. Credit reporting agencies keep records of people's credit histories, called "credit reports." Credit reports state whether a person has been reported as being late in paying bills, has been the subject of an unlawful detainer lawsuit (Eviction) or has filed bankruptcy.
The landlord may use this information to make a final decision on whether to rent to you. Generally, landlords prefer to rent to people who have a history of paying their rent and other bills on time. A landlord usually doesn't have to give you a reason for refusing to rent to you. If the landlord refuses to rent to you based on your credit report, it's a good idea to get a free copy of your credit report and to correct any erroneous items of information in it. Erroneous items of information in your credit report may cause other landlords to refuse to rent to you also. Also, if you know what your credit report says, you may be able to explain any problems when you fill out the rental application. For example, if you know that your credit report says that you never paid a bill, you can provide a copy of the canceled check to show the landlord that you did pay it.
When you submit a rental application, the landlord may charge you an application screening fee. The landlord may charge up to $33, and may use the fee to cover the cost of obtaining information about you, such as checking your personal references and obtaining a credit report on you.
The application fee cannot legally be more than the landlord's actual out-of-pocket costs, and can never be more than $33. If the landlord obtains your credit report, the landlord must give you a copy of the report if you request it.
Before you pay the application screening fee, ask the landlord the following questions about it:
If you don't like the landlord's policy on application screening fees, you may want to look for another rental unit.
Sometimes, the tenant and the landlord will agree that the tenant will rent the unit, but the tenant cannot move in immediately. In this situation, the landlord may ask the tenant for a holding deposit. A holding deposit is a deposit to hold the rental unit for a stated period of time until the tenant pays the first month's rent and any security deposit. During this period, the landlord agrees not to rent the unit to anyone else. If the tenant changes his or her mind about moving in, the landlord may keep the holding deposit.
Ask the following questions before you pay a holding deposit:
Will the deposit be applied to the first month's rent? Applying the deposit to the first month's rent is a common practice.
Is any part of the holding deposit refundable if you change your mind about renting?
As a general rule, if you change your mind the landlord can keep your holding deposit. You may also lose your deposit even if the reason you can't rent is not your fault - for example, if you lose your job and become unable to afford the rental unit.
A holding deposit merely guarantees that the landlord will not rent the unit to another person for a stated period of time. The holding deposit doesn't give the tenant the right to move into the rental unit. The tenant must first pay the first month's rent and all other required deposits within the holding period. Otherwise, the landlord can rent the unit to another person and keep all or part of the holding deposit.
Suppose that the landlord rents to somebody else during the period for which you've paid a holding deposit, and you are still willing and able to move in. The landlord should, at a minimum, return the entire holding deposit to you.
If you give the landlord a holding deposit when you submit the rental application, but the landlord does not accept you as a tenant, the landlord must return your entire holding deposit to you.