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Read further to learn more about rental applications in Delaware such as what fields should be included, what information a landlord can’t ask for, and what other Delaware-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. There’s a lot at stake whenever you rent property. A thorough screening process is necessary in order to reduce your risk. Delaware landlords should always start with an application to help them determine which tenant is best suited for their property.
A residential rental application will help you weed out bad tenants, but it can also allow you to distinguish between candidates. For example, if you have more than one interested party, you can review the applications to see which one is better qualified.
Delaware Rental Application Form Elements
Finding the right tenant is similar to hiring the ideal person for a job. The only difference is that it is much more difficult to remove a bad tenant than it is to get rid of a problem employee. You must also be careful not to violate any provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act or the Delaware Fair Housing Act. The following information will allow you to better screen tenants, while also remaining compliant with the Delaware Landlord/Tenant Code (The Code).
Leave a blank for the date at the top of your application. Section 5310 of The Code requires you to keep all applications on file for at least six months. Having the date on your application will ensure you are in compliance with this law should you be audited by the state’s attorney general. You may even want to go a step further and include a line where you can write in the date on which you may shred or dispose of the document.
Provide the street address and a general description of the rental unit. Include the apartment or lot number if one exists. Give a brief description of the property such as the type of dwelling (mobile home, single-family home, etc.) List any common areas or amenities that the individual would have access to as well such as a swimming pool.
Personal & Contact Information
Leave room for the applicant (and co-applicant if married or part of a couple) to list his or her full name and contact information. Include a space for any aliases or other names such as a maiden name. You may not ask applicants their age. However, you may have them verify that they are over the age of 18, which is the legal age for signing contracts in the state of Delaware.
In addition to your applicant or co-applicant, you will need to know the names and ages of any children who will be residing on the property. Leave space to include those names as well. You should have your applicants list all children, even if they will only reside there occasionally such as when parents have visitation or split custody arrangements.
Section 5105 of The Code requires you to list the names and addresses of any owners as well as anyone who acts on your behalf on the lease itself. While it is not required on an application, it is nonetheless a good idea to make this disclosure up front in addition to including it on your actual lease agreement.
Application Fee and Background Checks
List the amount of the application fee. Keep in mind that Section 5310 states that “the prospective landlord or owner of the dwelling unit shall not ask for, nor receive, any “assurance money” or other payment which is not an application fee, security deposit, surety bond fee or premium, pet deposit or similar deposit reserving the dwelling unit for the prospective tenant for a time certain.” This means you must be careful not to rent the unit to another person while the application is being processed. Accordingly, you should also provide a date on which the application will be either approved or denied.
If you plan to perform a background or credit check, list these fees separately. Delaware law prohibits you from charging more than the specific amount of an investigation, which is why you may want to charge one fee for a background check and a second one for the processing of an application.
A background or credit check will require the use of an individual’s Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Let applicants know that this information is needed in order to process an application, and will be used for official purposes only. Have each individual sign a statement consenting to a background or credit check immediately underneath his or her SSN or ITIN.
Have the applicant provide a full rental history for at least the past three years. This information provided should be similar to the work history that would be listed on a job application. In other words, the individual will list the address, landlord’s name, dates, and reason for leaving.
Knowing why a tenant moved from one residence to another is important. Some moves are legitimate such as a job change, while others like an eviction may raise red flags. You also want to screen out tenants who have a habit of moving frequently since those individuals are more likely to break a lease early.
You may want to ask specific questions concerning evictions or foreclosures. If so, Delaware law does not prohibit you from doing this. You might also want to know if applicants have ever terminated a lease early or been asked to leave a home they were sharing with others.
Along with a rental history, you should obtain a full employment history for applicants as well. This employment history should go back a minimum of five years. Have your applicant list the names and addresses of any past employers as well as the dates worked and reason for leaving.
Again, what you are looking for is stability. If an individual has a hard time holding down a job, he or she might have difficulty paying rent or committing to a lease. Knowing why a person left a job is useful information as well. For example, those who have experienced layoffs or business closings are not necessarily risks, and should therefore be considered differently than those who might frequently quit jobs without notice.
Financial and Income History
You need to know if the applicant(s) have sufficient income to meet your rent requirements, which is why you should ask about income. Have your applicants list all sources of income, including Social Security, disability, worker’s compensation or other forms. Remember that you cannot discriminate based upon disability, so you should include a statement noting that an individual will not be turned down based upon the source of his or her income.
Along with income information, you will also want to know a person’s financial history. Delaware law also does not prohibit you from asking questions about bankruptcy, loan defaults, or any other financial-related matter. A credit check will reveal these details; however, you may also wish to have tenants list them on the application. Leave room for them to write in any information about any current or pending bankruptcies or judgements that might affect their disposable income.
Do not ask whether an applicant is paying or receiving child support, alimony, spousal support or any other similar form of support. Doing so may open you up to accusations of discrimination based upon familial status. Let individuals know that they may voluntarily disclose such incomes or payments if they choose.
You may wish for applicants to provide you with documentation of their income such as paycheck stubs or tax returns. If so, list the required documents in this section as well, along with boxes to check off as you receive them.
Any roommates who will be occupying the property should provide the same information as your primary applicant. This includes rental and employment history, references, and income information. You will also need to perform a background and/or credit check on any roommates if you also require them for other applicants. Leave space for each roommate to provide this information, including a consent for a background or credit check if needed.
All roommates must be properly vetted and approved before moving in. Let applicants know that this rule applies to current roommates as well as any future ones. Delaware law also allows tenants to sublet properties unless doing so is expressly forbidden in their leases. Now is the time to make it perfectly clear that you will not allow such a practice. Add a few lines that talk about the need to vet future roommates as well as any prohibitions against subletting if they are approved. Have your applicants initial these lines as proof that they have read and understand.
If you allow pets, leave a space for the tenant to list the name, age, breed, sex, and species of any animals. Keep in mind that Delaware has enacted legislation that prohibits discrimination based on breed. This means that cities cannot enact bans against certain breeds, but it is not clear whether or not that same restriction also applies to landlords. To be safe, you should not include any language stating that certain breeds of animals are prohibited.
You may not prohibit service animals or require a deposit for one. To ensure you do not violate this rule, you should also ask whether or not pets are service animals. Require documentation to that effect so that tenants do not try to claim a pet is a service animal when in fact it is not.
Each applicant should list at least two landlord references and a minimum of three personal references. If the individual does not have two landlord references, allow that person to submit additional personal references instead. For example, those who have been longtime homeowners or young adults who are moving out on their own for the first time might have trouble coming up with landlord references.
References should be business associates, employers, or other professional references. They should not be family members. So that you know what type of reference an individual is providing, you may want to have them list their relationship to that person as well.
Personal / Criminal History
You may wish to have your applicants disclose any criminal history in lieu of performing a background check. If so, leave space for them to list information about any arrests such as the date, charges, location, and disposition of the case. Include questions that ask whether or not an individual is currently on parole, probation, house arrest, or required to register as a sex offender.
Let applicants know that a criminal conviction will not necessarily disqualify them from being accepted. At the same time, make it clear that lying or failing to report one’s criminal history could be grounds for a refusal. You should also let them know that a future lease may be contingent on them meeting any court requirements concerning house arrest, parole, or probation.
Applicants sometimes want to provide additional information that might help you with your decision making. For example, there could be extenuating circumstances surrounding an eviction or bankruptcy that they would like to explain further. This section is where you will provide them with an opportunity to do that. Leave a few lines where they can add the necessary information, and continue on a blank sheet of paper if more room is needed.
Underneath the written information, include a sentence stating something similar to “I attest that the information provided is true to the best of my ability” and then leave room for a signature.
Both parties will sign and date the application. Along with a signature, include a statement that says the application is not a guarantee of housing, but instead will be used to make a housing decision. For your applicants, include a statement just above their signature that says they have not left out or omitted any information, and that the info they have provided is accurate and true. Let them know that falsifying or omitting information is grounds for a refusal, and could be used as grounds for an eviction if they are accepted.