Landlords may require you to fill out a rental application. The landlord wants information on who you are before renting to you. Keep in mind that you can look into who the landlord is, too. You can check the landlord’s name on the internet.
Your rental application will probably ask you for:
- Previous addresses and contact information for former landlords and if you have been evicted before
- Landlords can check court records.
- Landlords can call your previous landlord. You may want to gather reference letters from your previous landlords to include with your application. That way, you know what your previous landlord is going to say.
- The name and contact information of your current or previous employer
- Income information
- Personal references
- Credit information. If the landlord wants to get your credit report, the landlord has to get your written permission. 9 V.S.A. § 2480e.
- Some application forms are written so that when you sign them, you are giving your permission for your landlord to get your credit report.
- Credit reports do not often show whether you paid rent or not because most landlords don’t furnish information to credit bureaus.
- It is a good idea to get a free copy of your credit report each year to make sure it doesn’t have mistakes that might keep you from being able to rent. See our Credit and Credit Reports page for more information on checking your credit report.
Application fees / Credit check fees
The law says that a landlord or a landlord’s agent cannot charge you an application fee to apply to rent an apartment or house. 9 V.S.A. § 4456a.
We believe that this law doesn’t allow landlords to charge tenants for the cost of credit checks or background checks to apply for an apartment. Any fee the landlord charges you in order to apply is still an application fee, no matter what the landlord calls it. You can object to paying the fee and show the landlord the law. Many landlords might take this as you starting an argument and decide not to rent to you. Another option would be to pay the fee, but later, if you think you were charged an illegal fee, you could bring a claim against the landlord. [See Claims against the landlord.]
If you are applying for subsidized housing, federal law prohibits charging fees. 24 C.F.R. 982.553(d)(3) and 24 C.F.R. 960.204(d).
If a landlord has asked you to pay an application or credit check fee, make an online complaint to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) or call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.
Criminal background check
The application may or may not ask about your criminal background information.
If you are a registered sex offender, you must tell potential landlords about your status.
If not, you don’t have to tell about your criminal convictions if the landlord doesn’t ask.
However, landlords can check your background even if they don’t ask about it on the application. They may use a service to run a criminal background check. Some landlords search the internet to see if you have ever been in the news because you were arrested as a suspect or convicted of a crime.
Landlords don’t need your consent to run a criminal background check. Do you know about mistakes that may come up in a background check? Do you have the same name as a person who was in the news for possible criminal activity? You may want to tell the landlord about it.
Landlords should be very careful about how they use background checks. Using criminal background checks to screen people who are applying to rent a place could be against the Fair Housing Act.
Landlords shouldn’t turn you away if you have been arrested, but not convicted. If you have a conviction, landlords should look at what you were convicted of and how long ago it happened. For example, a DUI from 20 years ago shouldn't stop you from getting an apartment.