The Vermont rental application form is a document that landlords send out to a prospective tenant to determine whether they are eligible to rent the property. The information requested relates to rental history, eviction history, and financial information which helps to screen the applicant for reliability as a tenant if a lease is entered.
- Application Fee – In Vermont, it is illegal for a landlord to charge ANY amount for a rental application fee, but they can charge the applicant for a background check.
- Discrimination Laws – Vermont offers specific state protections against discrimination, in addition to federal law. It’s illegal in Vermont to ask about race, age, religion, marital status, familial status, and more (with some exceptions).
- Consent for Credit Checks – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a prospective tenant to give written consent to check their credit history during the screening process.
Vermont Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Vermont, it is illegal for a landlord to charge ANY amount for a residential rental application fee, but the landlord may charge the applicant for a background check. (9 V.S.A. § 4456a).
If an application is approved a landlord may collect a security deposit. There is no limit to what Vermont landlords can charge as a security deposit. Towns or municipalities may have their own ordinances regarding security deposits. Additionally, there is no law requiring landlords to provide a receipt and no specified holding requirements for security deposits.
What Vermont Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal and state laws are in effect in Vermont 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, Vermont state law adds additional protections for the following classes:
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Marital Status
- Source of Income (Public and/or Rental Assistance)
- Victim Status (Abuse, Sexual Assault, or Stalking)
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 Vermont, 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 two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Age– 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.
- Owner Occupied Properties – if an owner lives in one of the units of a single-family property, it has three 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.
Vermont Eviction Record Search
Vermont landlords and agents can choose to use a third-party program to complete a background search or complete it themselves by accessing the Vermont Public Record Smart Search for free.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the Vermont Judiciary Public Portal’s Smart Search.
- Enter the applicant’s name, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to be taken to the case summary.
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.