A California Rental Application is a form used by landlords and property management companies to screen and vet prospective tenants to determine whether they are reliable and able to pay rent on time.
California laws impose unique requirements on landlords and property management companies screening prospective tenants and tenants’ rights during the application and verbal questioning process. For example, California Tenant-Landlord law provides the following:
Rental Application Information for Landlords
California landlords must use the same income and financial standard for married persons and persons who will be living together and combining their incomes.
- Source Income – a landlord may not ask questions on an application form or in person with the intent to discriminate against applicants based on their source of income, but they are 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 foot in the rental property but is not allowed to use overcrowding as a pretext for refusing to rent to families and children.
Rental Application Information for Tenants
All tenants must understand what questions and stipulations landlords and property management companies can include on their application forms and what they can verbally inquire about or demand.
- Holding Deposit – holding deposits are different from security deposits, which are deposits landlords hold to offset any charges due to damage or other reasons after a tenant moves out. A landlord may require a tenant to pay a holding deposit to hold the rental property for a specific period until the first month of rent is paid.
- Timeframe to File a Complaint – applicants must file their housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one (1) year of the alleged incident.
- Investigation Process – within sixty (60) days after filing a housing discrimination complaint, an investigator will go over the details of the situation and gather further facts.
As of 2023, the maximum screening fee a landlord or property manager can charge for processing a California rental application is $59.67, according to the California Apartment Association.
- The maximum screening fee is based on the Consumer Price Index and adjusted annually for inflation.
- The landlord may not charge an application fee when they know or should know there is no vacancy or will be no vacancy within a reasonable time. However, they may charge a rental application fee to each prospective tenant applying to live in the rental property.
- Landlords and property managers must provide tenants with an itemized receipt showing the screening fee and other costs incurred to process a rental application form (Cal. Civil Code § 1950.6(d))
California law sets limits on the amount of money that landlords can charge for security deposits. Depending on whether the property is furnished or not, the deposit is capped at a max. of three months’ rent.
While pet deposits are a common element of the security deposit, in California, there aren’t any state-specific laws governing pet deposits.
Other Landlord Resources
Ensuring you select reliable tenants is possible through a thorough rental application process. Here are some additional resources landlords should be aware of:
- The Federal Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on familial status, disability, nationality, race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. With the applicant’s consent, landlords may inquire about credit history, sex offender status, criminal or eviction history, proof of income, or employer information.
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects applicants by installing checks and balances on landlord credit inquiries and reporting. The law requires the landlord to give notice of actions taken after reviewing credit history and report, disclose the contact information of the agency in charge, and provide the applicant with a copy of the report and a chance to dispute its accuracy.
Below is an example of what a standard California rental application form looks like. You may download this free form or use our document builder to create a customized application.