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Read further to learn more about rental applications in Texas such as what fields should be included, what information a landlord can’t ask for, and what other Texas-specific rental regulations apply to the rental application process.
What is a Rental Application?
A rental application is a form that allows landlords to screen potential tenants to determine if they are a good fit for a property by asking for a variety of personal information. When renting property, there is always a degree of risk involved. For example, renters may not pay on time or fail to take care of the unit as they should. You have a lot of money tied up in your rental property, and need to protect your investment as much as possible. How can Texas landlords mitigate the risk and reduce the possibility of devastating losses? By finding out as much as possible about potential renters before allowing them to sign a lease.
Texas Rental Application Elements
A well-crafted rental application will ensure you obtain all the necessary information, while remaining compliant with the Texas Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Fair Housing Act. It is not a guarantee or offer of housing, but instead is similar to an application used for employment. Below is some information you should include on your Texas rental application form.
Section 92.3515 of the Texas Property Code requires you to notify applicants as to your selection criteria. You may do this by providing written notice and then having an applicant sign an acknowledgement stating that the information was made available. Section 92.3515 (c) requires such an acknowledgement to include a statement that is similar to that of the following:
“Signing this acknowledgment indicates that you have had the opportunity to review the landlord’s tenant selection criteria. The tenant selection criteria may include factors such as criminal history, credit history, current income, and rental history. If you do not meet the selection criteria, or if you provide inaccurate or incomplete information, your application may be rejected and your application fee will not be refunded.”
In addition to providing a separate acknowledgement, you should clearly list the application criteria in your introduction. Have all applicants sign this section to acknowledge that they have read and understood the criteria. The criteria should be listed in bold or underlined font in order to meet the requirements set forth in Section 92.3515.
No Guarantee of Housing
It’s important for individuals to understand that the application itself is not a guarantee of housing. Include a paragraph to this effect, and mention that if there are multiple applicants, the one with the most favorable rating overall will be selected. Note that vacancies are not filled on a “first come, first serve” basis, and state that you do not discriminate based on race, creed, color, national origin, familial status, or any other protected class.
Landlords sometimes collect applications so that they can place people on a waiting list. If this is the case, state that you do not currently have any vacancies, but that if the application proves favorable the individual will be placed on a waiting list. Be sure to mention that you cannot guarantee when or if a vacancy will become available. Mention when the application will expire, and give instructions on how and when individuals may reapply.
In the introduction section, you should list the application fee. Under Texas law, there is no limit on the amount you may charge for a rental application. You are also not required to refund an application for those who are turned down, provided you have clearly stated the application criteria. Make sure applicants know this by including a sentence or two about application refunds and then having them initial.
If an applicant is selected, you may wish to apply the application fee toward the deposit. Should that be the case, be sure to state this in as well.
Description of Rental Unit
Clearly define the rental unit so that there is no doubt as to what the applicant is applying for. Include such things as the property address and a description of the unit. Define whether it is a single-family, home, duplex, apartment, mobile home, etc. and give the unit number if appropriate. List the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as any other unique characteristics of the home. Clearly specify what if any areas are for common use among other tenants or residents.
List what the monthly rent will be should the applicant be chosen. Spell out how often and by what means the rent will be paid. That way, applicants cannot claim that they did not know how much rent they would be expected to pay.
By clearly identifying your rental unit, you are safeguarding yourself against any “bait and switch” accusations. Accordingly, applicants cannot claim that they applied for one unit only to be offered another.
Personal & Contact Information
In this section, ask for personal contact information for the primary lessee as well as his or her spouse. Ask for the individual’s full name, current address, and any previous names. To avoid a potential discrimination lawsuit, do not ask for the individual’s age, marital status, or ethnicity. You may however ask the applicant to verify that he or she is over the age of 18, which is the legal age of majority in Texas.
Obtain a government ID in order to verify this information, and then document the applicant’s driver’s license or other ID number as well as the state in which it was issued. Look at the ID card to see that it correctly identifies the individual (height, weight, age, etc.) but do not write any of these characteristics down.
Discrimination based upon ethnicity, national origin, or color is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. However, you may ask applicants to prove they are in the U.S. legally, provided you ask for the same documentation from everyone. Acceptable documents include a birth certificate, citizenship certificate, alien registration card, or employment authorization documents from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Collect a full rental history for the past three to five years. Have the applicant(s) list all addresses where they have resided, as well as beginning and end dates. They should include homes they have personally rented as well as those they have shared with others. Leave one line vacant so that individuals can list a reason for leaving their residence. For their current residence, ask applicants why they are looking to leave.
There may be instances in which a potential renter is or was a homeowner. If so, have that person list a home address as well as the name of their mortgage company.
A list of addresses may not tell you everything you need to know about a person’s rental history. As such, you may want to include questions such as:
- Have you ever terminated a lease early? If so, when and why?
- Has a landlord ever refused to renew a lease? If so, please give details
- Have you ever been sued for back rent or property damage?
- Have you ever been forced to forfeit your damage deposit?
Roommate and Children Details
Gather information about any potential roommates in this section. Ideally, you should ask for the same information you requested from your primary applicants. Always request government identification, and carefully document the ID number and state issued. If you required proof of legal residency from primary applicants, you will need to request the same from any roommates as well.
Include a sentence proclaiming that, if approved, all roommates will be required to sign a lease form. No additional roommates will be authorized without going through the application process first.
Roommates are other adults aside from the primary applicants. In cases where children will be residing in the house, you will want to gather their names and ages as well. Include children who will only be visiting occasionally as part of a custody or parenting-time agreement.
If you allow pets, you will need to include a section for them. In this section, ask applicants to list the names, ages, species, and breeds of any animals they plan on bringing with them. If you require an additional deposit and/or monthly rent amount to cover pets, include a sentence or two stating this and then have each applicant initial.
Clearly state that individuals are not authorized to keep any unapproved pets that were not listed on the application form. Include a sentence as to that effect in this section as well.
Personal and Landlord References
You should ideally ask for three personal references and three landlord references. Personal references can be employers, professional contacts, or friends; however, they should not be immediate family members. Acceptable references would be business and professional contacts, neighbors, or co-workers who have known that individual for at least two years.
Not all applicants will have three previous landlords. Some may be moving out on their own for the first time, while others might have lived only with friends or other relatives. If an applicant does not have three previous landlords, you could always ask for other personal references instead.
Personal Employment History
This section is where you will get to know your potential renters a little better. Begin by having each adult (both primary applicants and roommates) list his or her job history for the past five years. This will give you an idea as to whether or not that individual is capable of holding onto a job.
Serious gaps in employment or floating from job to job is something that should be cause for an alarm. Ideally, you should ask applicants to account for all time, including periods when they were unemployed or attending school. This can help you better determine if someone is likely to go from one job to another in the future.
Other Forms of Income
Applicants may sometimes have other sources of income aside from their employment. If so, you may wish to have them list that information here as well. Keep in mind that you may not discriminate against an applicant on the basis of disability. As such, you should include a sentence stating that an individual will not be turned down just because he or she is drawing Social Security, disability, worker’s compensation, or any similar form of income.
In Texas, landlords are authorized to perform a background check prior to renting, provided they receive permission from an applicant in writing. Include a paragraph within the application itself, followed by a signature block. You may wish to provide a separate addendum for each person to sign as well.
To perform a background check, you will need to know the state and county of residence for the past 5-7 years. Have each applicant list this information so that you can perform the appropriate checks.
You may wish to know if someone is on probation, parole, or house arrest. If so, list these questions and let applicants know that they will have a chance to elaborate more on their situation in a later block. If you wish to speak with an individual’s probation or parole officer, you will need to obtain permission in writing first. Prepare a separate addendum so the applicant can provide the release along with the name and contact information for the officer.
Sex Offender Registry
Sex offenders are required to register with the Texas Department of Public Safety (TXDPS). TXDPS itself does not restrict where sex offenders may live; however, certain municipalities may establish “child safety zones.” Child safety zones are generally within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, and other areas where children frequent. It’s important to be aware of any such restrictions in your area.
If your property is within one of the child safety zones in your city, you should include a statement to that effect, both in this section as well as in your introduction. This will let anyone who is required to register know that he or she is not eligible.
You do not have to notify applicants that you plan to check their name against the Texas Public Sex Offender database. You are also not required to obtain permission first since the information is publicly available. Most attorneys advise against putting this in writing as it could open you up to an unnecessary discrimination lawsuit.
Financial and Credit History
A credit history will let you know how financially stable a potential renter is. As with a background check, you should always receive permission to perform a credit check in writing. Include this information in your rental application as well as in a separate addendum that each individual will sign.
A Social Security number is normally needed to perform a credit check. Keep in mind that some individuals may not have a Social Security number. Those on a student or work visa who expect to pay taxes can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An ITIN can be used to research a person’s financial history; however, having one does not indicate legal status. Further research is needed before you can determine whether someone is legally in this country.
Let applicants know that a Social Security Number or ITIN is required in order to process the application, and that this information will be used for official purposes only.
To determine financial stability, you may also wish to ask for proof of income or employment. List the documents you will require, and leave a box that you can check off as you receive them. Some documents you may wish to ask for include current pay stubs or tax records.
Other Financial Questions
Landlords can also ask certain questions such as whether or not:
- An individual has ever filed for bankruptcy
- There are any pending judgements against a person
- An applicant has ever been evicted or foreclosed upon
You may not ask whether or not someone has been ordered to pay child support or spousal maintenance. Those who are receiving such support can choose whether or not to disclose this information.
Applicants sometimes want to provide information that they feel will help landlords in making a decision. For example, an individual may wish to explain circumstances surrounding a previous eviction, bankruptcy, or criminal arrest.
Leave a section for them to make comments in. Ideally, this should be no more than six to eight lines. You can always have applicants attach an additional sheet of paper if necessary. Ensure that individuals sign and date any additional comments they make.
Signature and Acknowledgement
All applicants will sign and date acknowledging that they have read the application, and that all information contained therein is accurate to the best of their knowledge. In the closing paragraph, you might also reiterate that falsifying an application can be grounds for denial.
According to Section 92.352 of the Texas Property Code, an applicant is considered rejected if he or she does not provide notice of acceptance within seven days. If one applicant is rejected, all co-applicants can also consider themselves rejected. Provide a sentence or two that states this, and list a date that is seven days from the date of application. Have all applicants initial that they acknowledge the fact that they will be considered rejected if they do not hear from you before that date.
Include a block for your own signature and date. Provide a copy to the applicants and keep the original for your own records and processing.