The California Rental Application Process
The California rental application allows landlords to verify a prospective tenant's background information and credit history before signing a lease agreement. California landlords were originally able to charge a maximum application fee of $30; the fee has been adjusted annually with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Applicants may also be asked to pay providers directly for screening services.
The application fee is non-refundable, unless portions of the fee are not used in the screening process. The landlord must provide the applicant with an itemized receipt showing how the application fee was used in the screening process; unused portions of the application fee must be refunded to the prospective tenant.
Further, If a rental unit will not be available within a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may not charge an application fee unless the applicant agrees to the fee in writing.
If a landlord in California runs a credit check on a prospective tenant, the landlord must provide a copy of the report to the applicant upon request. If the prospective tenant does not make the credit report available to the landlord, the landlord can refuse to accept the application.
Landlords in California may inquire about smoking status on the rental application and are allowed to deny occupancy to a prospective tenant based on that information.
California landlords may NOT ask the following questions on a rental application:
Citizenship or immigration status (in California, a landlord may not use immigration status as a reason to refuse to rent to a prospective tenant)
Arrest records (in California, landlords cannot discriminate against a prospective renter because of a criminal conviction)
- Race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, age, medical condition, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, source of income, and/or disability
- Whether persons under the age of 18 are living in the household/any information about tenant’s children
- In California, the security deposit for approved tenants may not exceed two (2) months’ rent for unfurnished rental properties, or three (3) months’ rent for furnished rental properties.
A Sample California Rental Application with Examples of Each Step
The rental application should include the following sections:
Personal Information (about the Applicant), including full name, date of birth, social security number, phone number, email address, and driver’s license number/state
Roommates/Other Occupants, including full name, date of birth, and relationship to applicant
Income/Employment History (last five years), including current/previous employer(s), position, dates of employment, supervisor name and phone number, and address, type(s) of other income, monthly income, name, address, and phone number of provider
Emergency Contacts (3), including name, address, phone number, and relationship to applicant
Vehicles, including, make, model, year, color, license plate number/state
Other Information, including prior evictions, bankruptcies, or felony convictions, smoking status, pets (a landlord may restrict pets, with the exception of service animals), and how the prospective tenant learned of the rental unit
Dated Agreement and Authorized Signature, including consent to a credit/criminal background check and application fee
Rental Application Resources for Tenants in California
California Department of Fair Employment and Housing
Housing Rights Center
Community Legal Aid Socal
Coalition for Economic Survival
California Rental Application Laws
In California, a landlord may not demand more than two (2) months rent for unfurnished residential property. For furnished rentals, a landlord may not demand more than three (3) months rent for a security deposit (Cal. Civ. Code §§1950.5, 1940.5(g)).