Make the Switch to Online Rental Applications

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Remember the good ol’ days of listing apartments and houses?

  • Taking out a classified ad in the local newspaper to inform readers as they sip on their morning coffees.
  • Posting a sign on the front lawn for cars driving by.
  • Hand delivering applications to prospective renters for them to fill out either on the spot or snail mail back.

In today’s world, the above tasks are mostly handled online. Listing sites such as Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor have replaced newspaper ads and lawn signs. Marketing on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have also become increasingly popular. It makes sense. Listing and advertising a property online allows the landlord to reach a much wider audience than just counting on cars driving by or people subscribing to a certain newspaper.

Once the landlord attracts a pool of applicants, the next task is to have them submit applications. Curiously, many landlords still handle this task manually with paper applications. Online rental applications have been increasing in usage over the past few years but have not caught on nearly as fast as digital listing and marketing.

Landlords and property managers, if you are still using paper applications, here are reasons to make the switch NOW!


  1. Renters Highly Prefer It

The National Multihousing Council (NMHC) reported that 88% of apartment residents say that, if they were given the option, they would use the internet to look for an apartment and fill out an online application – all before visiting the community.1

Online rental applications save renters a great deal of time and hassle because they eliminate the painful task of repetitive data entry. Renters often apply to multiple listings and are forced to fill out the same information over and over on paper applications. With online applications, renters can simply fill out their information once and submit it to as many landlords as necessary. It can take 30 minutes to fill out an application by hand but it only takes a few seconds to share it.

Ok so you, the landlord, can save renters from banging their heads against the wall, but how does this benefit you? The answer is you’ll attract more applicants. Simply include the application link as part of your listing. A renter can click the link and instantly share his/her completed application. Removing the time and hassle barrier will help you increase your applicant pool.


  1. Saves You Time and Hassle

Paper applications are difficult to organize and keep track of. You’ll probably need a combination of paper clips, staples, folders, sticky notes, and cabinets.

Online rental applications, on the other hand, make it simple to organize. Here is where using the appropriate rental/property management service is key. The good ones automatically organize all the applications for you on a single dashboard. They also present the applicants’ information in a manner that makes it simple to digest and compare.

By handling the application process online, you also remove the need for printers and fax machines. Not all renters own printers and even fewer own fax machines. Make it easy for renters to send you their information!


  1. Easy Integration

Online rental applications allow for seamless integration with other rental processes. Again, a good rental management service provider is important here. The right platform should allow renters to submit online applications along with their credit, background, and evictions reports. When you decide which applicant to accept, the platform should allow you to approve him or her and have the applicant’s data automatically transferred to the property and lease. Paper applications would require more data entry (ugh). It also forces both the landlord and renter to use multiple services to complete the application process.


  1. It’s Safer and Securer

An application contains a renter’s most private information. There are a lot of confusing and varying laws around the protection of personal identifiable information (PII). This means that you can’t just throw out a rejected application into the trash bin. Applications need to be retained to protect yourself against discrimination lawsuits. There are changing requirements in state laws on how long records need to be kept so make sure to read up on those!

Online rental applications make archiving significantly easier and eliminates the need to worry about proper disposal of paper documents. However, it is still best practice to download and save the applications on your own computer or USB drive for backup purposes. This is a lot safer than only storing paper records in your house (think fires, floods).


Have we convinced you to make the switch to online rental applications? If you are using paper, what’s stopping you from changing?

For those who use online rental applications, how has your experience been?


1National Apartment Leasing Professional – Leasing and the Internet
Photos courtesy of Flickr creative commons – saintseminole



  1. Interesting thought. I’ve actually never thought about taking online applications, but it’s a good idea. I’ll have to check around and see which ones are good. I saw one for $39 that just included a credit report, no background check. That seems expensive for what you get. But I saw another for $39.99 that included credit report, background check, and an eviction report. I’ll want to play around a little with their applications to see which ones are better than the others. Maybe that’s a topic for a future post! 🙂


    1. You’re right, many service providers sell screening reports (credit, background, evictions) and applications as a bundled offering. I’m a believer that while screening reports is a premium feature, applications is a core feature that you shouldn’t need to pay extra for. Here are my reasons.

      A full screening that includes the 3 reports you mentioned pulls data from the Credit Bureaus and public records (state courts, federal courts, sex offender registry, Homeland Security databases, and more). Searching for a name in all of these different databases is not an exact science. Credit reporting provides more accurate results because the SSN is used. However, background and evictions reports can’t rely on SSNs because SSNs actually infrequently appear on court records. Hence service providers build a system that uses matching logic to connect a name with birthdate, addresses, driver’s license, and other factors. This is a lot of work and something I wouldn’t recommend any landlord to handle themselves. To me, this is paying for a premium service because you’re leveraging technology that someone else spent the time and money building.

      On the other hand, applications, are simply templates. Service providers build a template and provide the same thing to all of their clients. Sure it may take work to build the template, but it certainly isn’t rocket science (we know because we’ve built it). This is something a rental management service should be offering their customers for free. I think alot of providers offer a bundled package to make it seem like they’re giving more for the price, but in actuality, the customer is really only paying for the screening reports.

      This is our logic at Properly where we will be offering online applications for free to both landlords and renters. Screening reports (all 3) will be a premium service. Users can use applications only (free) or screening reports only (for a fee) or both (fee for screening only). We don’t restrict usage of these features by offering a “bundled” product.


  2. Well as of right now we only rent out our basement apartment, so the application process is pretty simple : ) If we had more properties I’d absolutely go to an online option.


    1. Hey DC,

      How many applications did you have when you listed your basement apt? It sounds like a manage-able number.

      For my last rental in NYC, the landlord told me he had 15 applications on his one unit. Numbers like that, even tho it’s 1 apt, could benefit from moving the application process online.


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