In the premiere episode of Be A Better Landlord, Samantha explains to TurboTenant’s CEO, Seamus Nally, what a rental application should include and what it shouldn’t. They discuss the importance of gathering information about potential tenants, such as their rental history and job history, so that you can make an informed decision about who you wish to rent your property to. The Be A Better Landlord series will cover various aspects of landlording, landlord-tenant law, how to market your rental property, and best practices to help you get the most out of your investment.
Sheamus Nalley (CEO of TurboTenant): I’m Sheamus Nalley, CEO of TurboTenant, joined by Samantha, the Landlord Experience Specialist at TurboTenant, and she’s here to help me be a better landlord. So Samantha, I’ve got a vacancy coming up in the next couple of weeks. I’ve got a bunch of interested renters, and I have no clue how to run the rental application process. Why do I even need a rental application?
Samantha (Landlord Experience Specialist): A rental application is a great way for you to collect details about the interested renters. Not just their contact information like their name and phone number, but also details about their previous and current rental history, their job history, other occupants in the home, if they have pets and animals in the home. So that you can make a qualified decision on who’s going to rent your home.
Sheamus Nalley: That makes sense, but it sounds like a lot of information. Why do I need to know their previous rental history?
Samantha: It’s important to know how they’ve treated their previous homes. And if there are things like a past due balance that are owed to the current landlord or past landlord. It’s important to know if they had damages at the home when they moved out and if they had any lease violations or perhaps were evicted. You’d want to know those things before allowing someone into your rental and your investment.
Sheamus Nalley: Am I actually allowed to reach out to that previous housing provider and ask those questions?
Samantha: Absolutely. On most rental applications, you’ll have an application authorization that the renter will sign, giving you permission to ask additional details of the people listed on the application.
Sheamus Nalley: You also mentioned that I should get job history. What exactly am I looking for there?
Samantha: So you have a rental property that is going to have expenses. You want to make sure that you can pay your expenses monthly – your mortgage, utilities, contracts, things that you have to keep your business running. And you want to make sure that the renter you select is going to be able to support the monthly rental payments to help you support your expenses.
Sheamus Nalley: Should I worry about the kinds of income that they mention on that, or is it really just, do they have enough income to meet the rent?
Samantha: You’ll set your own income requirements when you’re going through your screening criteria. It’s important to look at verifiable sources of income, like a pay stub, bank statements, tax documents, things like that, to ensure that they’re not fraudulent documents when you’re qualifying renters.
Sheamus Nalley: And I’m allowed once again to collect those documents right alongside the application?
Samantha: Absolutely, yeah. You can ask the renters to submit those documents to you when they’re submitting the application, and you can provide a supervisor’s phone number on the application that you can call and verify their employment.
Sheamus Nalley: Okay, so so far I have an application. It has their contact information. I’ve got some previous rental history and some income and job history. What else should be on that application?
Samantha: You should definitely understand how many persons will be occupying the home. Not just the leaseholders or adults that will be on the lease, but also any minors or dependents that would be in the home as well.
Sheamus Nalley: Okay, let’s talk about those little critters that every landlord loves: pets. Can I ask about pets on the rental application?
Samantha: Yes, you can ask about pets and animals on the rental application. You can ask how many. You can state your pet policy if you have one. You can ask the age, the breed, and the type of animal that you have. And if it’s a pet or an emotional support animal as well.
Sheamus Nalley: Alright, with all of that, what are some things I actually should make sure I am not asking on an application?
Samantha: The first thing is just to make sure that you’re asking all the same questions of all your applicants to avoid discrimination. So using a standard rental application, streamlining the process with an online application is even better. But you want to make sure that you’re not customizing questions or personalizing questions for an individual. You also want to make sure that you’re avoiding seven protected classes of fair housing so that you’re not discriminating against anyone.
Sheamus Nalley: Well, you’ll have to excuse me, but I don’t know what the seven protected classes are. You mind walking me through them?
Samantha: Yeah, so the seven protected classes are race, religion, national origin, familial status, sex, color, and disability. And in some places, asking things like source of income is also locally not permitted per discrimination laws.
Sheamus Nalley: I’m also curious, you mentioned to make sure I’m not asking different questions to any applicants. But let’s say there are partners that are applying to live in the property. Do both of them need to fill out an application?
Samantha: Yes, as it relates to things like income, it can be a combined income if you have two people, whether that’s a married couple or roommates or whatever the case may be. You can combine their income to ensure they qualify. But when it comes to things on the screening report, like the credit and the background, the eviction history, even housing details and employment history, it’s going to differ on the individual. So you want to make sure you collect the same information from everybody.
Sheamus Nalley: So with all these tips, I now have to sit down at Word and create my own application. Are there places I can go to actually get an application that abides by all of these standards that you’re mentioning?
Samantha: Yeah, so you can find plenty of downloadable resources online. You can find sample applications. But the best way to make sure you’re following all the guidelines is to use an online platform that’s going to streamline and keep all that information together for you for easy access. It’s also helpful when using online software like TurboTenant, where we’ll collect things like the social security number on your behalf, send that to TransUnion, so that you’re not responsible for that private information of the renter.
Sheamus Nalley: That sounds incredible. Alright, so now that I’ve got an online application, I don’t have any of that private information tucked away in my desk. What do I do next?
Samantha: The next step is to look at all of your applicants, consider them with that rental criteria that you should have established at this point, and move forward with the screening process.
Sheamus Nalley: You want to tell me a little bit more about the screening process?
Samantha: Yeah, in the screening process, you can collect the credit, the background, and the eviction history of the renter to determine if they’re going to be qualified for your home.
Sheamus Nalley: Awesome, that sounds like a lot to dive into. So we’ll do it another time. That sounds great. Thanks a lot, Samantha.
Samantha: Yeah, of course. Thanks for talking with me today and making me a better landlord.
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