The Florida rental application form is a document used by landlords to screen prospective tenants to help determine whether they are a desirable tenant. The information collected is about rental history, eviction history, and financial information, which is used for background screening purposes.
Florida Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Florida, there is no limit or maximum rental application fee a landlord can charge a prospective tenant. It’s advised to not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense, but ultimately the determination of the fee is at the sole discretion of the landlord.
Additionally, security deposits do not have a cap or maximum amount set by Florida state law, but cities and counties may impose their own limits.
What Florida Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Asking about any of these items on a Florida rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
However, certain exemptions to Federal Fair Housing Act laws do exist. In Florida, these include:
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ communities, due to the Housing for Older Persons exemption.
- Religious Organizations – landlords may give preferential consideration to certain applicants based on religion if the property is owned, operated, controlled, or supervised by a religious organization that does not make it commercially available (42 U.S. Code § 3607).
- Private Clubs – a private club that operates without public access or commercial intent and does not discriminate when it comes to accepting new members may provide preferential consideration of applications for non-commercial lodgings owned by the club (42 U.S. Code § 3607).
- Owner Occupied Properties – if an owner lives in one of the units of a single-family property, it has 4 dwellings or less and the owner represents themselves during the leasing process, then they are exempt from abiding by FHA laws under the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. However, race can never be a deciding factor (per the Civil Rights Act of 1866) and there cannot be any discriminatory advertisements to discourage applicants of a certain group.
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 (like in our free template), 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.
Florida Eviction Record Search
Florida public records include eviction records, also known as “unlawful detainers” which means that anyone can access them. This can be done with a third-party screening program, or done manually.
To search for records on your own:
- Go to the Florida Supreme Court Online Docket Search.
- Select the ‘Party or Attorney’ option from the drop-down search menu.
- 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.
- Select the ‘count’ in the far right column to be taken to any existing cases, and click on the case number to be taken to a detailed breakdown of the case.
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.