The South Carolina rental application form is a document that is used to collect income, rental history, eviction history, and other personal information about prospective tenants applying to rent a property. This information is then used to screen the applicant and a decision is made by the landlord or listing agent.
South Carolina Laws on Rental Application Fees
In South Carolina, 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 South Carolina state law, but cities and counties may impose their own limits. There are no receipt requirements and no security holding requirements.
What South Carolina Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal laws help to protect South Carolina applicants during the tenant screening and 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)
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 South Carolina, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on if children will occupy the rented premises in any two-family owner-occupied buildings.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ or even 62+ 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.
- 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.
South Carolina Eviction Record Search
South Carolina provides free access to public records, including unlawful detainers (evictions) through an online case record search, which is accessible online. The screener can then use the applicant’s information to complete the search for free, or use a separate service to complete the screening.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the South Carolina Judicial Branch Case Records Search.
- Select the county that the potential tenant’s previous jurisdiction falls under to view the public index.
- Accept the disclaimer.
- 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 view the case details. Documents available for viewing will be linked in the right-most column of the ‘Actions’ tab.
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.