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.
- Application Fee – there is no limit to what landlords in Pennsylvania can charge as an application fee. Application fees are non-refundable.
- Discrimination Laws – Pennsylvania has state-specific protection against ancestry, plus federal law makes it illegal in Pennsylvania to ask about race, color, religion, nationality, sex, disabilities, or familial status (such as children who will live in the property), with some exceptions.
- Consent for Credit Check – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a prospective tenant to give written consent to check their credit history during the screening process.
Pennsylvania Rental Application Laws
The following laws apply to the application and tenant screening process in the state of Pennsylvania.
Collecting an Application Fee in Pennsylvania
While other states specify a maximum amount to collect as a rental application fee, Pennsylvania does not limit how much an application fee can be.
Illegal Housing Discrimination in Pennsylvania
Federal and Pennsylvania state laws are in effect to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process.
Fair Housing Act
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)
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 not allowed.
Pennsylvania Fair Housing Laws
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 not allowed.
Exemptions to Fair Housing Laws
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Pennsylvania, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Age/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 of the below cases:
- Two-family owner or family member-occupied dwellings.
- Housing for Older Persons Exemption – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities such as senior housing. This federal exemption, known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, can apply to 55+ or even 62+ communities that meet the requirements.
- Mrs. Murphy Exemption – 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. 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
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.
Consent for Credit 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 (example template).
Pennsylvania Security Deposit Law
If an applicant is approved, the following laws apply to the collection of security deposits in Pennsylvania:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount: Pennsylvania landlords can charge no more than 2 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.
- Receipt Requirements: There is no requirement to provide a receipt for the security deposit.
- Financial Holdings: 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)
Sending Rental Application Forms
Landlords can send rental application forms to tenants in one of two ways:
- Manually – using the PDF and Word templates available for free on our website (see the top right of this webpage), landlords can send a rental application form to tenants via a physical copy or email.
- With Software – most popular property management software services include an online rental application form that can automate the collection and screening process for landlords.
For reviews of popular property management software, click here.
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 PA 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.
- Hover over Case Information at the top of the page and select Magisterial District Courts.
- 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.
Responding to Rental Applications
If an applicant meets all of your tenant screening criteria, then there’s nothing you need to do beyond notifying them and moving forward with the normal leasing process.
However, if you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and you make an “adverse action” against them (EVEN IF the report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for doing so), you are required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”.
An adverse action is defined as either rejecting the applicant or instituting additional/higher requirements than you have for another applicant (i.e. requiring a co-signer, larger security deposit, higher rent or an additional deposit).
In these cases, an adverse action notice is required to be sent to the applicant, and must include the following:
- The agency’s name, address and phone number that supplied the report.
- A statement explaining that the CRA didn’t make the decision for the adverse action themselves, and as a result, that they can’t explain why the decision was made.
- A statement explaining the applicant’s right to dispute such information and their right to a copy of the report in question within 60 days.
To learn more about requirements surrounding adverse action notices, see this article from the Federal Trade Commission. To get an idea of what an adverse action notice might look like, see this example letter.
Additionally, to protect against accusations of illegal discrimination, it is always recommended to include the exact reason why the application was not approved in the rejection letter.