Whether you’re a burgeoning property magnate with a string of properties or just starting as a landlord, tenant screening remains the most important task you can do as a landlord.
To protect your investment and your passive income, you must have a completed rental application from your prospective tenants. No ifs, no buts. Screenings are an excellent predictor of a tenant’s quality, maximizing your income and saving you money, time and headaches down the line. And you can’t thoroughly check out a tenant without a rental application.
But are all rental applications the same? Is there a difference between an apartment rental application and a house rental application?
Spoiler — you need to screen your apartment tenants for good neighborliness.
What Should an Apartment Application and a House Rental Application Include
Whether it’s an apartment rental application or a house rental application, there’s basic information you need to form a completed picture of a tenant.
Make sure your rental application includes these fields:
- Number of people moving in, and how many are over 18 years old
- Full legal name and contact details
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Housing history
- Current and prior landlord information
- Job history
- Additional income sources
- How many pets they have
- How many cars they have
- Authorization to do background checks
- Application fee statement
- Signature field
We offer a free rental application that you can fire off to prospective tenants at the push of a button. You can even include tenant screening reports.
And to completely ensure you don’t lose money to non-paying tenants, you can buy insurance against it for a few hundred dollars. If the tenant stops paying the rent, the insurance kicks in and starts paying it. Check out Rent Rescue for details.
Differences in Tenant Screening Criteria for Apartments vs. Detached Single-Family Homes
But what are the main differences between a house rental application and an apartment application? It boils down to the fact that in multifamily properties, landlords must keep all the tenants happy.
Think of an apartment block as a delicate ecosystem. If you introduce a tenant with no respect for others, everything goes out of whack. Your applicant might look great on paper, but if they don’t act in accordance with the house rules, they’ll cause more problems than they are worth.
In apartments, the perfect tenant doesn’t just pay on time and take good care of your property. They also must play nice with their neighbors. So, it bodes well for you to tweak your apartment application to screen out tenants that will cause neighborly issues.
And by making your prospective tenants aware of the house rules up front, you’re clearly conveying your expectations. While also allowing applicants to decide if your unit is right for them before they view it.
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If you’ve ever lived in an apartment, you’ll know how noise is a hot-button issue. I still don’t understand how an upstairs neighbor once sounded like they were bowling every night at 2 AM… but they did.
If you’re collecting an apartment rental application, make sure to include the house rules so applicants can self-sort and not apply if they can’t abide by them. If there are time restrictions on noise, include a quiet hours policy in the apartment application.
You can also ask tenants in an apartment application if they’ve had issues with neighbors or landlords in the past. And make sure to collect references from previous landlords, not just their current landlord.
Their current landlord might be so desperate to get shot of them that they’ll give them a glowing reference!
Whether it’s a house rental application or an apartment application, you should ask about a prospective renter’s pets. Even in a detached single-family home, pets can cause above-average wear and tear or even damage to your property. And a barking dog tied up all day in a yard will drive an entire neighborhood to fury.
But especially in apartments, your tenants’ furry pride and joy can be their immediate neighbor’s barking nightmare. Plus, you may forbid pets altogether, or pets of a particular size.
If you’re dealing with an apartment application, make sure to include a clear pet policy. If pets are not allowed in the house rules, make it very clear before showing the vacant rental unit. Or if pets are allowed but with restrictions, ask prospective tenants how many pets they have, including their breed and size.
A criminal background check is essential to protect yourself, your property and your passive income. So you should always include a criminal check whether it’s a house rental application or an apartment application. But in a multifamily property, violent or drug-slinging tenants prove a bigger concern.
Of course, you must stick to the Fair Housing Act when making your deliberations and weigh up the evidence carefully. But criminal tenants can be downright dangerous to nearby tenants. And people will move out in their droves if there’s criminal activity like drug dealing happening on the property.
Make sure to check potential tenants’ criminal backgrounds carefully for any red flags. And contact all previous landlords in case they’ve had any conflicts with neighbors that got out of hand.
What Background Checks Should Landlords Run with a Rental Application?
You can have the most perfect and complete apartment application known to man. But sadly, it’s not enough to protect both your property and its neighbors from terrible tenants. To get the big picture, you must run proper background checks to make sure your prospective tenants are the real deal.
If you make sure to get a full credit check with every rental application, you’ll save yourself a fortune in missed rent payments further down the line. Make sure to get the applicant’s written permission to run these checks, such as a clause at the end of the application form. (Our free rental application includes an authorization, and you get the tenant screening reports simultaneously.)
Go through each credit report with a fine-toothed comb. Large debts are a massive red flag, because this may affect the potential tenant’s ability to pay the rent regardless of their income. Take a note of any late payments, unpaid accounts, bankruptcies and judgments against too.
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Obviously if a prospective tenant has been evicted before, this should ring alarm bells. Eviction is the very last resort and is a lengthy, costly and stressful process which should be avoided at all costs. Protect your income by doing eviction checks along with every house rental application and apartment application.
I’ve already covered criminal checks earlier in this article. But it bears repeating that you should run full criminal checks to know exactly what you’re dealing with. In multifamily homes, you may be putting other tenants at risk.
Verifying Income and Employment
It’s not enough to take a potential tenant’s rental application at face value. You must also verify their income and employment history and check the results against their application. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- Have they moved jobs a lot?
- Does their current income cover the rent plus normal living expenses for the area?
- How does their income measure up against their debts on the credit check?
Verifying Rental History with Past Landlords
Don’t take any written landlord references as fact — always follow up by contacting both their current and their past landlords. Make sure to find out if they paid their rent on time and if they followed the rules of the property.
When screening tenants for multifamily properties, take good care to ask about any neighbor disputes, noise complaints or other signs they aren’t right for the property.
Who Needs to Fill Out the Application Forms?
Even if it’s a house rental application, you still need to ask how many adults aged 18 or over will be living in the property. That’s because every adult must fill out an application so that you know exactly who is living in your property. This will allow you to screen everyone who is responsible for the rent.
What about if someone is co-signing the lease, like the parents of a college student tenant? Each co-signer must fill out an application form and go through your screening process, even if they aren’t living there. That means that if your tenant can’t pay their rent, you’ve already checked that the co-signers can.
Should Landlords Charge an Apartment Application Fee?
No one likes charging tenants for application fees, but they are a necessary evil to protect your investment and income. It’s an option though to have applicants pay any tenant screening fees directly, instead of having to collect them.
Our free rental application allows you to include credit reports, criminal checks and eviction reports, which you can charge to the applicant directly!
Over to You
Whether it’s an apartment rental application or a house rental application, there is still basic information you need to include to protect your precious passive income. But just doing rental applications isn’t enough — you must also do tenant screenings.
There are some minor differences in what you should include in an apartment rental application and a house rental application. In multifamily properties, landlords must keep all the tenants happy. That means screening apartment tenants a little more carefully.
When so many people live in units that share at least one wall, noise plays a bigger factor than in a stand-alone house. Same goes for tenants with pets, which may be against house rules. And tenants with certain criminal histories don’t only pose a potential risk to you — they also pose a potential risk to their neighbors.
Any apartment vs. stand-alone rental experiences to share? How do you screen tenants for neighborliness? Let us know in the comments!
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About the Author
Yvonne Reilly is a landlord, property investor and solopreneur, passionate about helping people become financially independent and realizing their FIRE dreams. As a freelance writer, editor and digital marketer, she also helps small businesses connect with their audience and build traction. You can find out more about Yvonne on her website.