The Delaware rental application form is a document that landlords use to collect personal information from prospective tenants. The information requested relates to rental history, eviction history, and financial information that landlord’s factor into their decision on who to rent the property to.
Delaware Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Delaware, there is a limit on rental application fees, a landlord can only charge a prospective tenant 10% of one month’s rent or $50, whichever is greater. The landlord should also furnish a receipt for the application fee charged to the applicant and should maintain that record for a minimum of 2 years.
If the landlord demands more than the application fee, the tenant may recover damages that are equal or even double the amount that was charged. (25 DE Code § 5514 (2019))
Additionally, according to Delaware state law, landlords may only charge up to one month’s rent for security deposits; however there are exceptions. Landlords are required to place the funds in an escrow account and provide a written receipt of the location and amount within 20 days of request from the tenant.
What Delaware Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
As a result, asking about any of these items on a Delaware rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
In addition to federal FHA laws, Delaware state laws add additional protections for the following classes:
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Lawful Source of Income (Public and/or Rental Assistance)
Like FHA laws, information relating to these classes may not be asked for or considered as part of the decision-making process. However, certain exemptions to the Federal Fair Housing Act laws do exist. In Delaware these include:
- Age – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on the applicant’s age in the case of senior housing. This federal exemption is known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, and can apply to certain communities meeting the required criteria.
- “Mrs. Murphy Exemption” – dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws Additionally, race cannot be a deciding factor as per the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
- Religious Organizations – the applicant’s religion may be used as a basis for preferential consideration if the property is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent it commercially or discriminate against other classes. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – privately owned clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for dwellings owned or operated by the club if there is no discrimination in accepting members. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Federally, race is a non-exemption criteria that cannot have an influence on the choice of whether to rent to an applicant or not regardless of existing exemptions. Additionally, FHA laws do not apply to single-family homes rented without a broker.
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Delaware Eviction Record Search
Anyone can perform an eviction record search through public record. While some third-party programs compile this information for you, it is also readily available.
To access the eviction records for Delaware:
- Go to CourtConnect.
- Select the ‘Search by person name, business name or case type’ option
- Accept the disclaimer to access the Person/Case Type Search page.
- Enter the potential renter’s name to access civil court documents. You may designate a county if you know which jurisdiction their previous rentals fall under.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.