Standard questions to ask on a rental application

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, rental application, Screening, Step 6 - Applications & Screening

Questions to ask in a rental applicationIf you’re new to the rental business, setting up something even as basic as a rental application may seem a bit daunting.

Cozy makes the process easy, offering a secure online application link for each applicant and co-applicant. Whether you choose to use Cozy for your applications or opt for your own homemade version, these standard questions help you make informed decisions about potential new renters.

1. Personal information

Getting personal information is an absolute must on every rental application; after all, you need a way to contact the applicant and verify a few basic details. In this section, the applicant fills out their name, contact information, and date of birth. A Social Security number is not required.

Related: Do Landlords Need to Collect Social Security Numbers?

2. Employment and income history

This section asks for the applicant’s employment status and several years of work history. Ask for the current (and recent) employer’s name, the applicant’s start date, title, and monthly pre-tax income. Also ask for a work contact to verify employment. Include space for additional income information. This comes in handy for the self-employed or for those with other income sources or side jobs.

3. Residence history

Ask the applicant to include residence history for at least the past two years, including the current home. For each location, the applicant should list the approximate move-in and move-out dates. Also ask for the landlord’s name and contact information.

4. References

A reference section helps you verify that what the applicant claims is true. Ask for at least two references, such as coworkers, former landlords, college professors, or former bosses.

5. Emergency contact

This information isn’t necessary to rent an apartment, but it could be vital in the event of an emergency later on. Here, the applicant lists the contact information for a nearby family member or close friend.

5. Pets

The pet section lets the applicant list any pets they plan to bring into the rental. If your rental allows only small dogs, for instance, include extra space to list a dog’s breed or size. Use this section to inform applicants of pet-specific rules at your rental, too.

6. Bankruptcy

Though not a requirement, you may wish to ask whether the applicant has filed for bankruptcy in the past seven years. Include space for an explanation below the question in the event the applicant indicates a bankruptcy. Note that bankruptcies show up on a credit report for up to 10 years.

6. Evictions and refusal to pay rent

These questions are optional. Asking the applicant whether they’ve ever been evicted or refused to pay rent can help screen potential problem tenants. If they indicate “yes” to the eviction question, ask why it happened. Refusing to pay rent or refusing to pay on time is also worth an explanation. Typically, rent refusal happens during a landlord/tenant dispute, so it’s good to know the tenant’s history in this area. Several rent refusals could indicate a potential for future disputes.

7. Crimes

In this section, the applicant indicates convictions for felonies or misdemeanors, including drug-related convictions. Parking and traffic violation information isn’t necessary here. This information will show up on a background check.

8. Smoking

Ask about smoking. This is also a good place to list the smoking policy for your property or region. If your property has a designated smoking area, mention it here as well.

Related: How to Remove Cigarette Odor from Your Rental Property

Additional screening information

It’s a good idea to require applicants to undergo further screening, such as credit reports and background checks. Note that the Cozy application covers these as well. With Cozy, applicants click links to purchase either report, with an option to refuse either one. If an applicant refuses, they are offered space to explain the refusal.

The bottom line

Getting the same information on all your applicants makes the process fair and helps you compare applicants. Have requirements set up ahead of time, such as a certain credit score, income level, and debt load, and then when you review applications, you’ll be able to offer your rental to the most qualified applicant.

Should I accept credit card payments as rent?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, Rent & Expenses, Step 6 - Applications & Screening, Step 9 - Manage Lease & Collect Rent

Should I allow rent with credit cardsUsing credit cards can be a tricky game, especially when using them for rent payments.

Do you earn points or miles for travel when you use them? Do you only pay the minimum each month? Or do you pay cash and focus on staying debt free? It gets even trickier when you are deciding whether to use credit cards for large recurring bills such as rent.

Using a credit card to pay rent could be a great way to streamline payments when your monthly expenses and paychecks don’t line up, or it could be a good way to get into major debt.

We’re going to review the pros and cons of using a credit card to pay rent.

Pro No. 1: Evens out the cash flow ebb and flow

Bill due dates often don’t fall in line with paycheck dates so cash flow can become an issue. You may be flush with cash during week three of the month but going in the red week one. Paying rent with a credit card could be a way to avoid that issue. If you set up your bills to be automatically paid with a credit card and automate paying the credit card on pay dates, this method could smooth out cash flow issues throughout the month.

Related: 6 warning signs when screening a tenant

Pro No. 2: Points and miles

According to Million Mile Secrets, paying rent with a credit card to earn miles and points is a method to earn extra points. Many credit cards provide perks such as early release concert tickets or a special airport lounge if you spend an annual minimum. Paying rent with a credit card is an option to meet that minimum if you have great perks to offset fees.

Pro No. 3: Builds credit

Someone with little to no credit could build their credit score by paying rent with a credit card. Each time you put the rent on the card and pay it off, you improve your credit score and prove your creditworthiness.

Con No. 1: Can lower your credit score

If you are not paying off your card every month, not only will your debt add up quickly, but your credit score can suffer. For those with a low credit limit, it won’t take long for your debt percentage to rise. When you are using a high percentage of your available credit, your credit score can go down, which hurts you anytime your credit is checked. When you are looking for a new car, lease, or credit card, a poor debt-to-credit ratio could raise your interest rate or result in a rejection.

Con No. 2: Credit card fees

When rent is paid with a credit card, there will always be a fee. Cozy has a standard 2.75% credit card processing fee. Look at your bills, points, and credit card perks to determine if the 2.75% fee is worth it. Rent that is $1,500 a month would result in a $41 fee each month. Are your points worth it? On the other hand, if you couldn’t pay rent on time without a credit card, would the $41 be less than a late fee?

Related:  My tenant won’t pay late fees, now what?

Con No. 3: You’re playing with fire

Do you have a history of high debt? If so, it might be a bad idea to use a credit card to pay rent. It’s easy to pay the rent with a credit card, but it might be difficult to pay the card. This could cause your debt to increase exponentially. Without the ability to pay the credit card off each month, not only will you be paying the processing fee, but also the interest rate. Your debt can get out of control, depending on your interest rate.

The landlord’s perspective

As a landlord, I would accept credit cards. Before accepting a tenant, landlords complete a credit check, reference checks, pay stub verification, and background checks. We are fully aware of the financial lives of our incoming tenants.

If you are comfortable entering a lease with a new tenant, then trust that they can decide whether paying rent with a credit card makes sense for them.

Rental application fees: what you need to know

Written by Megan Wild on . Posted in application fees, edited, For Landlords, For Renters, paid, Step 6 - Applications & Screening, tenants

Landlords hate to charge rental application fees as much as tenants hate to pay them. But these fees are necessary.

Experienced landlords, particularly those who’ve been burned by less-than-exemplary renters, screen future tenants to make sure they’re a good fit for their rental property. And that costs money. Thus, the application fee, which funds running background and credit checks on applicants.

Here’s what landlords and tenants need to know about application fees:

For tenants

Landlords can charge rental application fees

Landlords need to know you can pay the rent, act in a financially responsible way, and will treat their property with respect. Running a credit check helps them get a sense of your financial history, and a background check helps them see if you have a history of behavioral red flags.

The application fee covers the screening cost. 

Some landlords accept information directly from you and will give you a break on the application fee. If you bring your recent credit report and recent pay stubs, for example, some landlords will accept that in lieu of running your credit. Keep in mind, however, that landlords typically prefer to run their own credit check, as credit reports and pay stubs can be altered. 

Note that landlords typically charge an application fee to everyone on the lease. Did you hear that, roommates? 

Related: Who should fill out a rental application?

Don’t get scammed

There’s a reasonable and customary charge for rental application fees. They usually cost $30-50, but some landlords may charge you up to $100. You can expect to pay the larger fees in a hot real estate market.

Some landlords, unfortunately, try to take advantage of applicants by charging them exorbitant fees just to apply or, even worse, just for viewing the property. Landlords like this are trying to make the application process a moneymaker, a practice that scrupulous landlords don’t do.

Don’t be afraid to walk away from a landlord who seems to be making a money grab. In fact, some states limit the amount a landlord can charge for an application fee. If your state has those limits, let the landlord know. If your state doesn’t mandate fees, ask if the landlord will lower the fee, so they’re charging enough to cover the cost of screening and that’s it.

Ask if the fee will be refunded 

In some cases, your landlord may refund the cost of a rental application. This may happen if they had multiple applicants and rented the property to someone before they got to your application. In that case, not only will many landlords refund the application fee. Some states mandate they must refund the fee.

Be aware, though, you are not entitled to a refund just because you didn’t get the rental. If the landlord did the screening, they don’t have to refund the fee.

You can ask the landlord if they can put the application fee toward your security deposit, as a negotiation point. But it’s up to the landlord whether that will happen.

Related: Ask Lucas 012: Are Online Rental Applications More Secure than Paper Applications?

For landlords

Charge rental application fees only for the actual cost

Application fees are intended to cover the cost of running a credit and background check. Taking a hard look at an applicant’s credit history, employer, former landlord, and doing a background search on criminal records will give you a good sense of whether someone would be a good tenant. You can and should screen each person on the lease.

Depending on your state, you might only be allowed to charge what credit and background checks cost. You’ll want to check the local and state rules where the rental is located for specific regulations for rental application fees.

If you use Cozy to manage your property, tenant screening reports are free for landlords. The applicant pays $24.99 each for a background check or credit report, or $39.99 for both. Applicants order the reports and share them directly with you, so you both stay on the same page.

To collect your application fee, tenants can pay via cash, check, or card. An advantage of using Cozy is that tenants pay online, so you don’t have to deal with money at all. If you’re accepting payments yourself, make sure to provide a receipt, especially if you provide refunds for application fees.

Don’t use application fees as a profit center

Finding a tenant to rent your property can be a time-consuming task, and you may feel justified charging for your time. It’s important, though, not to overcharge or to use the application as a profit center. Some states, such as California, for example, mandate against overcharging, allowing landlords to charge only their out-of-pocket expenses.

You can ultimately profit from your rental by charging market rates; as a bonus, you avoid potential legal ramifications and damage to your reputation that can come from charging unnecessarily high application fees. 

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

Refund the application fee under certain circumstances

In some circumstances, particularly hot rental markets, you might end up renting your property to an applicant while you have the applications and fees of others still pending. If you have application fees from prospective renters and won’t be running their background checks, you should refund the fees.

Renters and landlords: know the laws in your state

State laws about application fees differ widely, so it’s important to know the rules in your state. Both renters and landlords should check into their state laws on this. California, for example, caps application fees at $47.22, and landlords need to provide the results to tenants if they request it. In Wisconsin, a landlord may charge the actual cost of a consumer credit report (up to $20).

There’s a lot to know about rental application fees, but you can master the best practices to make sure you’re charging and paying a fair rate.

How to spot fake pay stubs and credit reports

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, Screening, Step 6 - Applications & Screening

Fake credit reportsAs a landlord, you need to make sure you rent to tenants who can afford to pay the rent and who actually pay their bills, so you naturally check pay stubs and credit reports. You are doing that, right?

The problem is that some people aren’t completely honest when trying to rent a property. They might pretend they make more money than they really do by giving you a fake pay stub. Or they might try to give you a doctored credit report to make them appear creditworthy when they really aren’t. So how can you make sure what you’re learning about potential applicants is true?

Look at more than just the pay stub

People can simply go on the internet and use a template to make their own paycheck stub. And these paycheck stub generator sites are super easy to find.

The result?

The pay stubs look official, and people can enter any information they like. You won’t be able to tell just by looking at this type of fake pay stub whether it’s the real deal or not. Here are four better ways to verify income:

  1. Request a W-2 form. Employers prepare this form, which shows an employee’s gross earnings, deductions, and taxes. It’s possible to fake W-2 forms, too. But it’s a much harder process and involves an entire criminal enterprise of tricking payroll personnel. W-2 forms are a more accurate way to verify income than pay stubs are. You are far more likely to get fake pay stubs than you are fake W-2 forms.
  2. Look at your applicant’s bank account. Check to see whether the deposits match what they say their income is.
  3. Call their employer. First, find out whether they work where they say they do. Then ask whether the employer can verify that the applicant earns what they say they do. Not all employers will verify salary, but they can at least let you know whether the applicant works there.
  4. Request form 4506 from the IRS. With this form, you can see a transcript of a prospective tenant’s federal tax record.

Always run your own credit check

If a tenant offers to give you a copy of their credit report to “save” you from doing this step yourself or because they say they don’t want to ding their credit with a credit inquiry from you, politely decline. Why? It’s easy to fake a credit report, too.

The remedy is simple: you need to request a credit report yourself. I use Cozy for this service, and it works out great. The credit reports come from Experian, one of the three credit bureaus. If you use Cozy for your tenant applications, you can request that Cozy require all applicants to agree (and pay for) a credit check and a background check.

And bonus: Just letting applicants know that you use a screening service is itself a way of screening tenants. Applicants who can’t afford your place will probably move on or will be upfront with you about anything negative you might find.

Related: 6 Ways to Handle Applicants with Bad Credit

Bottom line

It would be nice to be able to instantly spot fake pay stubs and credit reports. But that just isn’t possible in many cases. You need to verify information by crosschecking and, ideally, using a screening service such as Cozy.

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