The Pennsylvania rental application form is a document sent out to prospective tenants in order to compile personal, financial, and other information that will be used by an agent or landlord to screen applicants for a rental property.
Pennsylvania Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Pennsylvania, 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.
If an applicant is approved, a landlord may collect a security deposit. According to Pennsylvania state law, landlords can charge no more than two months’ rent as a security deposit. After the first year of tenancy, if the lease is renewed, the limit is one month’s rent for a security deposit.
Additionally, for security deposits exceeding $100, landlords must keep the money in an escrow account at a financial institution (and provide holding information) or place it in an interest-bearing account that pays the tenant interest (minus a 1% administration fee from the landlord) and provide holding information for that. Alternatively, the money may secure a bond with a Pennsylvania surety conditioned upon the landlord returning the security deposit at the end of the lease. (PA 250.511b) There is no requirement to provide a receipt for the security deposit.
What Pennsylvania Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal and Pennsylvania state laws are in effect 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, Pennsylvania state laws add additional protections for the following classes:
- Pregnancy Status
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 Pennsylvania, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base a decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any two-family owner or family member-occupied dwelling.
- 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– dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws, unless a real estate agent represents the landlord. This is known as the Mrs. Murphy Exemption. Additionally, race cannot be a deciding factor as per the Civil Rights Act of 1866
- 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.
Pennsylvania Eviction Record Search
Because eviction records are public domain, the records can be retrieved from the Pennsylvania Judicial System. The simplest way to do this is through their online portal, or a third-party service which completes the search for you.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (UJS) Web Portal.
- Use the dropdown search bar and choose “Participant Name”.
- Enter the applicant’s name and any other applicable information you may have, select Landlord/Tenant” from the dropdown Docket Type menu, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the Print Preview icon to view the docket sheet.
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.