A California Lease or Rental Application is a form used by California landlords to screen and vet potential tenants to determine whether they are reliable and able to pay rent in a timely manner.
A standard Rental/Lease Application provides a landlord with the opportunity to screen for any red flags a tenant may raise, ranging from credit history to past employment references.
According to the 2016 California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Report, 1,006 housing discrimination complaints were filed in 2016, with disability cited as the most common reason.
California imposes/requires unique requirements on landlords screening potential/future tenants and tenant’s rights under the screening process. For example, California Tenant-Landlord law provides for the following:
- A landlord may not discriminate against applicants on the basis of their source of income, but is allowed to ask about the level and source of income.
Number of Tenants:
- A landlord may establish reasonable standards for the number of people per square feet in the property, but is not allowed to use overcrowding as a pretext for refusing to rent to families and children.
- A landlord may require a tenant pay a holding deposit, to hold the rental property for a specific period of time until the first month of rent is paid.
California landlords must use the same income and financial standard for married persons and for persons who will be living together and combining their incomes.
- As of 2012, the most a landlord can charge for the rental application fee is $49.50.
- A landlord may not charge an application screening fee when they know or should know there is no vacancy or will be no vacancy within a reasonable time.
- Before paying a holding deposit, a tenant should always ask a landlord whether the deposit will be applied to the first month’s rent or if any part of the deposit is refundable.
Timeframe to File Complaint:
- Applicants must file their housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one (1) year of the alleged incident.
- Within sixty (60) days after filing a housing discrimination complaint, an investigator will go over the details of the situation and gather further facts.
California law also prohibits housing discrimination based on a person’s medical condition or sexual orientation.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, all landlords are prohibited from discriminating against future and potential tenants based on:
- Familial status
- Color of skin
- National origin
Landlords are able to screen future tenants based on a neutral set of criteria that doesn’t discriminate against a class of persons. Landlords are allowed to use such information to determine whether the tenant is trustworthy and able to pay rent. Landlords may legally inquire about the following:
- Credit history
- Sex offender status
- Past rental and eviction history
- Criminal history
- Proof of income and salary specifics
- Current and past employer contact information
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) and subsequent 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act protects housing applicants by installing checks and balances on landlord credit inquiry and reporting. Both laws require a landlord:
- Give written, oral, or electronic notice of any negative or adverse action taken by the landlord after reviewing the credit report.
Consumer Report Details:
- Disclose the contact information and name of the consumer reporting agency that issued the credit report. A landlord must also provide the applicant with specific credit information relied upon, such as the credit score and other numerical statistics.
Copy and Opportunity to Dispute:
- Give the applicant a copy of the credit report, followed by a chance to dispute the completeness and accuracy of it.