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Read further to learn more about rental applications in Alabama such as what fields should be included, what information a landlord can’t ask for, and what other Alabama-specific rental regulations apply to the rental application process.
What is a Rental Application?
A rental application is a form that allows landlords to screen potential tenants to determine if they are a good fit for a property by asking for a variety of personal information. Rental applications are a vital first step that a landlord must take prior to following through with a lease agreement. A well-designed, detailed form is a valuable tool that consolidates basic information about a potential tenant and streamlines the rental process for both parties. A rental application should be complete with a signature line to obtain consent for the landlord to run a credit check, background check or other verification processes on the applicant.
Landlords who rent properties to tenants in Alabama should have each prospective tenant completely and accurately fill out a rental application form. The rental application becomes a part of the lease agreement by being referenced in the legal language of the lease agreement and then a final signed copy of the rental application is attached to the lease agreement.
Rental Application Legal Issues
The rental application has information about the place to be rented. This could be a room, house, condominium, apartment, mobile home, or another type of dwelling. All of these types may be referred to in the application and in the lease as the “rental unit” with a description of its location.
The rental application asks the prospective tenant to give information about themselves. This includes employment information, rental history, and references. Landlords need to be careful about the questions asked on the rental application. There are state and federal regulations about what can be asked in a rental application and the form that the questions may take.
Landlords have important responsibilities when evaluating a prospective tenant, which are not to discriminate in violation of federal or state law and to get written authorization from the applicant to run a background/credit check.
How to Avoid Discrimination
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has information about federal laws against discrimination for any private, public, or HUD-based housing that receives federal funding support.
Federal loan guarantees for mortgage financing (e.g. Sallie Mae or Freddie loans) are very common. This is considered federal support.
Alabama state laws that prohibit discrimination follow the rules of the federal Fair Housing Act.
Under federal law, is illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants on the basis of their skin color, race, religion, their nationality, sex, the status of their family, or if they are disabled. Note that the term “sex” includes all genders, male, female and others that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (gender non-specific). This group of people is referred to collectively as LGBTQ.
To avoid any potential allegation of discrimination, the rental application should not include any questions related to any of these issues. Moreover, discrimination is prohibited in advertising to rent a vacant rental unit. Even if the property is exempt from federal regulations, because it does not receive federal support, it is still illegal to use discrimination in advertising.
Discrimination in Advertising and Equal Access
Landlords need to be careful in advertising. They should never use phrases such as “no wheelchairs” or “no children”(unless an exception applies). That simple mistake may cause a lawsuit.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the property must be accessible by those with disabilities. Additionally, the rental application must be available in a format that can be used by a person with disabilities or they should have access to assistance, as needed when filling out the application form.
The application should be available in other languages for those that have limited English proficiency. This is a requirement for any federal program and optional for others. However, a landlord cannot use a lack of proficiency in English as a way to discriminate against certain tenants.
Housing for Older Persons
There is an exception for children if the rental unit is age-restricted as housing for older persons. Advertisement of age-restriction is permitted as long as there is an exemption for age-restricted housing by having people who are 55+ living in at least 80% of the facility.
Questions about age and children are allowed on the rental application if the facility has an age-restriction exemption. If these questions appear on a rental application, it is a good idea to include a disclaimer. The disclaimer says that they are asked about age only for a legal purpose of the building’s exemption allowing age restriction.
The age of the person cannot be used for any other discriminatory purpose. For example, it would not be legal to ask someone’s age and then, if they are an older adult, refuse to rent to them because they are too old.
After understanding the prohibitions, a landlord can avoid using illegal things in advertisements or putting illegal questions on the rental application.
Alabama Rental Application Elements
Here is a checklist of the items that are good to include in a rental application. Applicants should be clearly instructed to complete all fields in the rental application. Blank spaces or incomplete information should be considered for investigation.
- Description of the Rental Unit: This section has the details of the rental unit location and type of dwelling, including how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has. It shows the monthly rent and security deposit (limited to one month’s rent by Alabama state law). If pets are allowed, it shows the pet deposit, which is not a limited amount under the state’s laws.
- Personal and Contact Information of the Applicant: Here the applicant gives the full legal name of the person(s) who will be responsible for the rental payments and who will sign the lease agreement. The applicant(s) gives the address where he or she currently lives, an email address, and a telephone number(s) with good times to contact them.It is OK to ask for the Social Security number and driver’s license number for all prospective tenants. It is helpful to ask the applicant to give a date they would like to move in and how long they would like to rent the place. A lease may have a minimum term (typical one year).
- Rental History: In this section of the application, the prospective tenant(s) can be asked how long they lived at their current address and why they want to leave. The tenant(s) should give a rental history for the past five years by listing all the addresses and the state/end dates where they rented during that period.
- Landlord References: The tenant(s) should give the contact information (telephone number and/or email) for all their previous landlords for the past five years as a reference.
- Other Tenants: This section asks the legal name of any occupants that will live with the tenant(s) who are not signers on the lease agreement. The prospective tenant(s) gives the other occupant’s names, ages, Social Security numbers, relation to the tenant, and their occupation (if they are adults).Any background check that makes use of these Social Security numbers requires a separate written authorization signed by the person whose Social Security number is checked.
- Guests: Guests could be friends or family members. Guest stays may be restricted by a limited duration. It is better for a landlord if all adults that are full-time occupants are considered tenants on the lease. In this way, they can all be together and separately liable for the lease agreement.
- Vehicle Information: This information may be collected if needed for parking controls. It includes the make, model, year, color, and license plate number of any authorized vehicles.
- Financial History: This category includes questions for all tenants about current employment, past employment, banking accounts, and credit card accounts. If the landlord is going to run a background check and credit history on the tenant(s) this should be indicated here. If there is a fee that the applicant(s) pays for the credit report it should be stated.There should be a place for the tenants(s) to sign their name specifically authorizing a background check and credit history report. This can be included here or this section can be part of the signature section at the end of the application. Alternatively, a landlord may use a separate form for applicant(s) to sign in order to authorize the credit history report and background investigation.
- Personal References: Under this section, the applicant(s) give the names addresses telephone number, email address, and type of relationship (friend, family, etc.) of three people that they know well (who are not previous landlords).
- Emergency Contact Information: This section is voluntary. The applicant(s) gives contact information for the nearest relative, a personal doctor, and an emergency contact. This protected confidential information is only used in the case of an emergency and for no other purpose.
- Applicant’s Personal History: Alabama is a very landlord friendly state. This means a landlord in Alabama may ask questions that would be prohibited in other states. In this section, the questions might include those about a tenant’s self-rating (one to five scale) of their own cleanliness. The application can ask if they smoke.There should be questions that ask about any of the applicants having convictions for crimes, evictions, bankruptcies, previous refusals to pay rent, or any other circumstances they know of that may cause them to have the inability to pay rent.The applicant(s) can be asked if they are currently involved in any litigation. For example, if an applicant is going through a divorce or another lawsuit, the legal proceedings may cause a lockup of their funds.
- No Smoking Policy: Under Alabama law, it is permissible to have a no-smoking policy in the rental unit; however, the tenant should be allowed to smoke outside of the rental unit in a designated smoking area.
- Discrimination Notice: Legal language about discrimination law must be included in the application, such as the statement that “discrimination is against the law on the basis of age, race, national origin, religion, or sex.”
- Signature(s): The signature section includes space for the signature of the applicant and any co-applicants. There is a paragraph written before the signature(s) that says the applicant(s) certifies that all statements are true to the best of their knowledge.The applicant(s) also acknowledges that any false statements in the application might be sufficient grounds for eviction and the loss of the security deposit.
- Additional Information There can be an open section where the applicant(s) is free to share anything that he or she wishes to share with the landlord that might help with the applicant’s consideration. For example, they could state any handyperson abilities that they have to make repairs as needed for the rental unit.
Here are a few optional things that can be added to a rental application for specific circumstances. They include if a security deposit is taken with the application, if pets are allowed, if parking is separate, and if there is a homeowner’s association.
- Security Deposit: If a security deposit is taken with the application, a receipt form can be used that says it will be immediately refunded if the application is denied.
- Pet Information: If pets are allowed, this section asks the applicant to provide information about their pet(s) including the name(s), weight(s), color(s), type(s)/breed(s), and the total number of pets.If there are any restrictions on the types of pets that are not allowed, they should be put in this section. All prospective tenants must be treated fairly and given the same policy about pets. Include information about security deposits for pets.
- Parking: In some buildings or complexes, parking is rented out separately by the tenant and possibly from a different company. If parking for the rental unit is subject to rules and regulations of a separate parking company, then this optional information should be included in the rental application.This information is to inform a prospective tenant about any existing parking restrictions. It explains any monthly parking fees and how to obtain a copy of the parking rules. It asks to applicant’s to approve (by marking the section with the applicant’s initials) that information on the rental application may be shared with the parking company as necessary.
- Homeowners Association (HOA): If the rental unit is subject to rules and regulations of an HOA, then this optional information should be included in the rental application.This information is to inform a prospective tenant about any existing HOA. It explains any HOA monthly fees and how to obtain a copy of the HOA rules. It asks the applicant’s to approve (by marking the section with the applicant’s initials) that information on the rental application may be shared with the HOA as necessary.
Here are some helpful hints, which may reduce a landlord’s liability exposure:
- Protection of Personal Confidential Information: Landlords must take reasonable care to protect personal confidential information such as a person’s Social Security number or driver’s license number. The rental application should be protected in a secured storage system.The information should not be shared with anyone else except authorized staff or credit bureaus unless the landlord receives a court order to do so.
- Tenant References of Past Landlords: Many landlords have a policy of not giving any references about past tenants. This may make it difficult for a new landlord to evaluate a prospective tenant’s rental history. This is done to avoid the legal liability for giving a bad reference.As an alternative, some landlords require the previous tenant to sign a release form that allows the landlord to give an accurate reference for a past tenant to a specific party. Of course, it is usually only the good tenants who request this reference.
- Reporting to Credit Bureaus If a landlord plans to report late rent payments and evictions to credit bureaus, it is good idea to inform prospective tenants of this process on the rental application.
Fair Housing Rights and Obligations
Alabama Law – Fair Housing Act
Housing for Older Persons Act
Alabama Rental Application