The New York rental application form is a document that landlords provide to prospective tenants to collect information relating to their finances, rental history, and any past evictions they have faced. This is then used to make a determination on whether to rent the property to this applicant.
New York Laws on Rental Application Fees
New York limits application fees to the cost of completing the background check or $20, whichever is less. However, there is an exception for co-ops and condo buildings, and the prospective tenant may pay more than $20. Additionally, the fee may only be collected if the applicant is given copies of the background and credit check paperwork and a receipt or invoice from the company that performed the background check. If the applicant has had a screening report dated within 30 days, this must be accepted in place of collecting a new fee. (NY Consolidated Laws Section 238-A)
If the prospective tenant’s application is approved, New York state law allows for one month’s rent to be charged as a security deposit, except in the case of rent-stabilized residential units such as assisted living, senior communities, and property subject to rent control laws. (NY Gen Oblig L § 7-108) The security deposit funds must be held in a bank in New York and should be accompanied by a notice that outlines where the funds are held. If the landlord receives six or more security deposits from tenants, they must be placed in an interest-bearing account that accrues to the tenant. (NY Gen Oblig L § 7-103) It is not necessary for landlords in New York to provide a security deposit receipt.
What New York Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal and state laws are in effect in New York to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process. The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Additionally, New York state laws add additional protections for the following classes:
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Military Status
- Gender Identity/ Gender Expression
- Source of Income (Public and/or Rental Assistance)
These criteria may not be asked about in writing or in person, and may not be used in the consideration of a rental application. As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In New York, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any of the below cases:
- Two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Rental of a room in a single-family home that is occupied by the owner or other housing occupant.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sex – the sex of an applicant may be considered in the case of established same-sex housing accommodations.
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
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.
In New York, a tenant cannot be denied if they are on the “tenant blacklist”. The blacklist is a list of tenants who have been involved in landlord/tenant disputes in New York City Housing Court. NY Consolidated Laws Section 227-F If a landlord is guilty of denying a tenant due to the “tenant blacklist” they can face a fine of up to $1,000.
New York Eviction Record Search
New York eviction records are public domain, so anyone can access them to complete a background check. Landlords may choose to use a service, or complete the check themselves using the New York court’s online system.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the New York State Unified Court System’s eCourts WebCivil Search.
- Select “Party Search”.
- Complete the captcha to continue to the case search.
- Enter the applicant’s name and any other applicable information you may have, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to be taken to the case details. Note that only minimal information may be shown.
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.