California Rental Application

View our FREE California rental application form template below (no sign up required). Read further to learn more about what’s included on rental applications in California, what information a landlord CAN’T ask for, and what California-specific regulations apply to the rental application process.

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Quick Facts for California

Purpose of a Rental Application

Rental applications demonstrate good work ethic and give both landlords and tenants confidence in their final decisions. They also serve as helpful documentation and proof of the screening process, which can help protect landlords in the event of a lawsuit. Tenants should be wary of landlords who don’t use rental applications; you want to know all the right steps are being taken when filling a vacancy.

Rental Application Fees

A landlord may charge a maximum of $49.12 for a tenant application if they choose to do so. Applicants may also be asked to pay for screening services directly through the provider.

Who Needs to Fill One Out

Prospects over 18 years old who will be living in the property for any length of time should fill out a rental application and anyone who isn’t living in the home but who is co-signing the lease should fill out a rental application. Tenants who move in at a later date should also fill one out.

Processing Time

Usually 48-72 hours; you should keep rental application records until the tenant is out of time for making a legal claim, which is 4 years for written lease agreements, and 2 years for oral agreements. After approving a tenant, remember to send them a copy of the lease within 15 days of signing.


Read further to learn more about rental applications in California such as what fields should be included, what information a landlord can’t ask for, and what other California-specific rental regulations apply to the rental application process.

Do You Need to Use a Rental Application?

Rental applications serve as helpful documentation for landlords. Not only will they help the tenant screening process easier it will also help protect your property and yourself. By choosing the best-qualified prospect, you will feel confident in signing a lease. At the same time, you will have proof to support your decision-making process. An applicant can sue a landlord if they deny them, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you are a renter, you should definitely look out for landlords who don’t use a rental application, especially if you are looking into multi-family or apartment complexes. You want to know the landlord is taking their time to screen potential tenants to ensure the security of the residence.

Rental applications are a demonstration of good work ethic and its the first step toward becoming a successful landlord.

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.

A valid rental application ensures equality in the screening process, provided that the same form is distributed to all prospective tenants.  This is critical in adhering to the Federal Fair Housing Act. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, skin color, nationality, religious preference, gender, age, family status or disability. 

NOTE

In the state of California, landlords are also restricted from asking questions regarding immigration or citizenship status on the rental application.  

California Rental Application Form Elements

The sections that should appear in an all-encompassing rental application are described below.  Applicants should be clearly instructed to complete all fields in the rental application. Blank spaces or incomplete information should be considered for investigation.

Roommate Information

At the time of application, the landlord is entitled to know who will be sharing the unit with the primary applicant.  At a minimum, the rental application should ask for potential roommates’ names and relationships to the applicant. This information helps a landlord determine if occupancy regulations are being followed in the unit.  In the state of California, the generally-accepted limits of occupancy are two people per bedroom, plus one additional tenant.  

Depending on the situation or type of unit, roommates may be required to complete their own rental application.  This is common in situations where each individual occupant of a unit is billed separately for their own portion of the monthly rent by the landlord.  

If an applicant has children, they are not required to list their names in this section of the rental application.  The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against renters with children. Listing their names in this section could unwillingly introduce bias against the applicant and ultimately lead to a violation of federal law.

Rental History

Landlords are entitled to ask detailed questions about a potential tenant’s previous residences.  The rental history portion of the rental application should request the following information:

  • Current address, including street number, street name, city, state and zip code.  
  • Number of years residing at current address.
  • Landlord, manager or owner’s name of current address, if applicable.
  • Telephone number of current landlord, manager or owner of current address, if applicable.

This information should also be provided for previous residences.  It is common for landlords to request a rental history that includes either the past three addresses or the past five years.  

By obtaining this information, landlords can contact previous residences to determine if the applicant is a good fit for their rental.  The landlord may:

  • Confirm that the rental history provided on the application is accurate. 
  • Determine if the potential tenant regularly paid rent when due.
  • Find out if the potential tenant abided by the residential lease agreement in place at that time.
  • Ask if the applicant incurred significant damages to their unit.
  • Find out if the potential tenant was the subject of frequent complaints.
  • Ask about the applicant’s smoking status at that time.
  • Ask if the applicant owned at pet at that time and if they abided by written pet policies.
  • Ask if there would be any reason to deny residence to this applicant (remembering the guidelines of the Federal Fair Housing Act).

Income

While it may seem intrusive to some applicants, this section of a rental application provides a landlord with important information to increase their confidence that the prospective tenant will be capable of paying monthly rent on time.  A landlord will want to request current monthly income.

Employment history should also be included in the income section of a rental application.  Some applications list employment history as a separate section. Employment history should encompass the past five years, beginning with the potential tenant’s present employer.

Financial and employment history is vital information to a landlord and it should be completed in its entirety.  Financial and employment information that is incomplete without explanation, employment history that shows numerous job changes, gaps in the employment history or a gross monthly income less than three times the monthly rent amount are possible red flags to renting to a particular tenant.  

Emergency Contacts

  A landlord may request between one and three emergency contacts on the rental application to keep on file if needed.  The landlord may also obtain emergency contacts when the residential lease agreement is signed.  

Vehicle Information

  A landlord may request an applicant’s vehicle information if there are assigned parking spaces or if there is limited parking available on-site.  In the case of an overcrowded parking lot, the landlord can use this information on file to determine which cars belong in the lot and which do not.  If a landlord requests an applicant’s vehicle information, they should obtain the make, model, year, license plate number and state for each vehicle that the prospective tenant owns.  The landlord may also collect this information upon signing the residential lease agreement, if desired.  

Pet Information

It is within a landlord’s rights to restrict pets, with the exception of service animals.  Unruly pets can be a nuisance to neighbors, create a mess and cause significant damage to a unit.   A landlord may choose to allow certain types or breeds of pets, enforce size restrictions, limit the number of pets in a unit or completely prohibit pets.  If a landlord decides to allow pets in their rental unit, they may require the tenant to sign a written pet policy. They may also collect a pet deposit or charge monthly pet rent. 

On a rental application, a landlord should ask if the tenant has pets, and if so, what type of animal it is, what breed it is, and how much it weighs.

Other Information

This section of the rental application will further assist the landlord in identifying red flags associated with an applicant.  It is an excellent opportunity to prescreen an applicant before proceeding with the rental process.

While unfavorable answers may not automatically mean that the potential tenant would create an issue for the landlord, they may warrant further questioning or investigation prior to leasing the unit to this person.  This is a prime section to ask any questions that have not been addressed by the rest of the rental application, provided that the questions are compliant with the Federal Fair Housing Act.

The rental application is a landlord’s introduction to a prospective tenant.  While it may seem time-consuming to review all sections of the rental application and thoroughly screen each applicant, doing so is in the landlord’s best interest. 

Personal Information

In this section, the tenant provides all basic personal information that would be required to verify their identity.  When designing this section of a rental application, the landlord must be careful to adhere to the Federal Fair Housing Act and state of California regulations pertaining to housing discrimination.  The following pieces of personal information are legal to be requested of the prospective renter:

  • First, middle and last name.
  • Aliases or other names used in the last 10 years.
  • Social security number.
  • Contact phone numbers and best time to call.
  • Email address.
  • Driver’s license or state identification number, including state issued.
  • Expiration date of driver’s license or state identification card.

While some rental applications ask for an applicant’s birthdate, it is advised to only request this information if it is directly needed in screening an individual, such as in a criminal background check, credit check, identity verification report, housing history report or eviction history report. Asking directly for an applicant’s age is a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.  

Signature

The applicant’s signature is one of the most vital sections in the rental application.  Without the applicant’s signature, the information collected may only be of limited use.  The rental application clearly state what the applicant’s signature represents. When a prospective tenant signs a rental application, it should be understood that they consent to the following;

  • That all information provided on the rental application is truthful to the best of their knowledge.  
  • That they give permission to the landlord to verify the information provided on the rental application.
  • That they consent to all reports needed to verify the information provided on the rental application including a credit report, a criminal background check, employment history report, tenant history report or any other means of collecting information.  

In addition to a signature line, this section should include a space for the date.  It should also include a space to indicate if an application fee was received, if applicable.  

Information Landlords Can’t Ask For on Rental Applications in California

  • Citizenship or immigration status
  • Arrest records (in California, landlords cannot discriminate against a prospective renter because of a criminal conviction)
  • Race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, age, medical condition, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, source of income, and/or disability
  • Whether there are persons under the age of 18 living in your household/any information about tenant’s children

Learn more about topics that are off-limits with tenants here
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Regulations in California Governing Rental Applications

While many rental applications look similar from state to state, each state has its own set of tenant screening laws that may influence the details of an application.  In California, there are several regulations that must be considered when a landlord devises a rental application for potential tenants.

Fees

  • In California, a landlord may charge an application fee that does not exceed $49.50.  This fee does not need to be refundable unless portions of the fee are not used in the screening process.
  • The application fee is intended to cover a landlord’s out-of-pocket screening costs and their time spent during the screening process.  
  • The landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized receipt showing how the application fee was used in the screening process.  Unused portions of the application fee must be refunded to the applicant.  

Screening Process

  • If a landlord in California runs a credit report on an applicant, the landlord must provide a copy of the report if requested by the applicant. 
  • If the applicant has a freeze on their credit report, the applicant must make arrangements to temporarily suspend the freeze or allow access to the landlord.  If the applicant does not make the credit report accessible to the landlord, the landlord can refuse to accept the application.  
  • A landlord may not use immigration status as a reason to deny occupancy to an applicant.  
  • Landlords in California may inquire about smoking status on their rental application and are allowed to deny occupancy to an applicant based on this information.  

Other

  • If a unit will not be available within a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may not charge an application fee unless the applicant agrees to a fee in writing.  

To streamline your tenant screening process and equip yourself with an effective, legally-compliant rental application, make sure to refer to California Civil Code 1950.6(a).

Other California Rental Templates & Forms

Read About Rental Application in Other States

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Indiana

Iowa

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