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The rental application is a valuable business record in several respects. It deserves to be retained, and accessible, for a good long time, especially if the prospect who filled it out is refused or voluntarily withdraws.

The first, but only the first, use of the rental application is to advise you of the qualifications of the prospective renter. To this end, ensure that it is thoroughly filled out. There are a number of good forms on the market, or available from your local apartment association. You should use one, perhaps with a few modifications to suit your particular needs. Ensure all the information requested is given, then check and verify all of the information provided. 

Make sure the rental application you use contains a proper authorization allowing you or your agent to verify references and obtain a credit report.

Keep notes of any conversations you have with the prospect and his references, and any other persons you speak to in verifying information, and if anything, such as a credit report, is obtained, that should also be retained. Staple all these to the application. If you refuse to rent to this person, make a note of what information caused the decision.

If the prospect signs the lease agreement, the application should become a personal part of his file. This is its second use. The application should be updated annually, to insure all the information is still accurate. This is very important. Should the tenant leave owing money, recent and accurate information about employment and assets can go a long way in making collection possible.

Just because the prospect decided not to rent, or you rejected him, this is no reason to throw away the application. Such dead applications are not dead at all. If you were careful in documenting your activities in verifying the information, and stapled it all to the form, this application would constitute a business record of your activities and act in lieu of a good recollection of this particular applicant if, at a future time, he were to make a claim or sue for unlawful discrimination. This is a third use of the rental application. Suppose you get a lawyer's letter demanding money for wrongfully running a credit check without proper authorization? Reply with a copy of the application granting permission (with the tenant's signature and initials on it, of course), and you will hear of the matter no further.

Plan to keep your dead applications as you would keep all other business records. File them and so they can be retrieved and plan to retain them for at least five years. So if you do have to respond to one of the rejected applicants, you will have pre-planned and thereby be able to refer to all necessary documents to substantiate your decision.

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