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The Rental Application – Things to Know

What Is a Rental Application?

One of the more important aspects of leasing a home is filling out the rental application. When people apply for a lease, they are asked a series of questions on the rental application that helps the landlord determine whether or not the potential tenants will be a good fit for the prospective property.


Landlords take this opportunity to ask as many legally pertinent questions as they can in order to obtain a clear history of the tenants' background. Landlords are free to choose whichever tenant they wish to lease their property to, as long as they do not discriminate in the process. Although the landlord can legally set whatever conditions they want in terms of who is an acceptable tenant, there are stipulations set by law as to how far those conditions can go.

Anti-Discrimination Legislation Affects a Rental Application

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the landlord from discriminating against a tenant based on their:

  • race or color,
  • national origin,
  • religion,
  • gender,
  • age,
  • familial status, and
  • any physical or mental disability.

Many states and local ordinances also prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, so the landlord is prohibited by law from using these conditions in determining who to select as their tenants.

A landlord can reject a tenant for conditions such as criminal background, credit history, lack of reasonable income, a prior eviction, or a negative reference from a previous landlord. A landlord can also refuse to lease to an individual who lies on the rental application, so exaggerating income or not disclosing a prior eviction or criminal incident can wind up eliminating the tenant from consideration if it is later discovered. The best practice is to always be truthful and disclose all the pertinent information requested.

A Landlord Can Decide Who to Lease a Property To

As far as what information a landlord can use to qualify or disqualify a tenant from consideration in a lease, as long as the questions are geared toward telling them whether the tenant will likely be a good renter or not, they are usually permissible. They can also ask questions that might help determine where the tenant may relocate if things go wrong and the tenant skips out on rent. As long as the questions relate to these areas, they generally are legally permissible.

Smoking and Pets

Two areas where the landlord can legally discriminate against a potential tenant in a lease are regarding smoking and pets.

These two provisions are not protected under anti-discrimination laws, therefore a landlord can reject an application based on whether or not the tenant is a smoker or maintains a pet.

The other condition that is important in all rental application is that the landlord subjects all applicants to the same basic set of questions. Interview or application questions that are not directed at everyone regardless of their status constitutes special treatment. A landlord cannot request a credit check from one set of prospective tenants and then not require it from another. Many rental applications are standardized to prevent discrimination in the rental process, but tenants should be aware of their rights prior to entering any negotiations with a potential landlord.

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