Tenant Screening 101: The Right Practices for Landlords

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As a landlord, your relationship with your tenants is one of the most crucial aspects of your property management responsibilities. Proper tenant screening enables one to choose the right tenants who will respect your property and also the tenants of the agreement.

Ensuring that you have the right tenants can mean the difference between a smooth, profitable experience and a nightmare of late payments, property damage, and legal battles.

Here’s a guide to best practices in tenant screening that can be very useful for everyone.

Why Tenant Screening is Important

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Tenant screening is not just a precaution; it’s a necessity. Proper screening helps protect your investment, ensures a steady income, and fosters a positive living environment. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Financial Security: By screening tenants, you can significantly reduce the risk of late or missed rent payments. Evaluating a tenant’s credit history and employment status can provide insights into their ability to pay rent consistently.
  • Property Protection: Tenants who have a history of damaging property or engaging in disruptive behavior can cost you thousands in repairs and lost rent. Screening can help identify these potential problems before they move in.
  • Legal Compliance: Proper screening practices can help you stay compliant with fair housing laws and avoid discrimination lawsuits. It ensures you treat all applicants fairly and consistently.
  • Community Well-being: Good tenants contribute to a positive community atmosphere, making your property more attractive to current and future renters.

Steps in the Tenant Screening Process

Establish Clear Criteria

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Potential tenants need to be screened, so set clear expectations for who you want as a tenant before putting your property up for rent. This can be done through:

  • Clear Rental Listings: Write detailed listings that outline your expectations, such as income requirements, credit score minimums, pet policies, and smoking rules.
  • Initial Contact: During the initial inquiry, ask basic questions about their current living situation, reason for moving, and potential move-in date.

Having this criterion can help with how to screen the applicants.

Request a Rental Application

A comprehensive application form is a critical tool in the tenant screening process. This form of finding ideal tenants should include the following basic data;

  • Personal Information: Full name, date of birth, social security number, and contact details.
  • Employment History: Current and previous employers, job titles, duration of employment, and income.
  • Rental History: Current and previous addresses, landlord contact information, reasons for leaving, and rent amounts.
  • References: Personal and professional references who can vouch for the applicant’s character and reliability.

A comprehensive application enables landlords to gain information on their backgrounds and to check the truthfulness of the information given.

Verify Income and Employment

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The other component of creditworthiness is revenue affirmation, which is a way of ascertaining whether the tenant can afford the rent or not. Ask the tenant for bank statements or income tax returns.

Rent should ideally not exceed 30% of the tenant’s monthly salary. Check employment information to ensure that it is reliable and that the income they are earning is steady.

Check Credit History

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Going through a tenant’s credit report allows you to get more information about the level of his or her financial responsibility and previous credit performance. Check all the payment history, unpaid bills, and whether the applicant has any significant financial problems.

That being said, a bad credit score doesn’t entirely exclude the tenant but may require further negotiations or extra collateral.

Criminal Background Check

Although not all landlords go as far as this, obtaining a criminal background check can give some level of assurance concerning threats of violence, for instance. While some minor offenses may not be disqualifying, patterns of criminal behavior or serious crimes may be.

It is important to consult with local ordinances to stay away from violating the law regarding the use of criminal history in screening.

Evaluate Rental History

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When dealing with a new tenant, it is essential to conduct a background check regarding the tenant’s rental history to measure their performance as a tenant.

A history of eviction is a major red flag, so looking for outstanding lease violations or previous complaints from the landlords should also be sought.

Contacting previous landlords can provide valuable insights into the applicant’s rental behavior. Ask about:

  • Payment History: Were they consistent and on time with rent payments?
  • Property Care: Did they maintain the property well?
  • Behavior: Were they respectful of neighbors and property rules?
  • Reason for Leaving: Understanding why they left can provide context.

Assessing Personal Compatibility

When approaching the process of selection with tenants, an in-person or virtual interview can help you get a better sense of the applicant’s personality and reliability. Consider asking:

  • Why are you moving?
  • What is your ideal living situation?
  • How do you handle conflicts with neighbors or landlords?

While data and references are crucial, trust your instincts. If something feels off during the interview or any part of the process, it’s worth considering.

Ensuring That You Obey the Rules

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The Fair Housing Act ensures that tenant screening complies with federal, state, and local laws. Such laws regulate discrimination in processes regarding factors such as race, color, religion, national origin, family status, and disability.

Make sure you understand these laws and have procedures that regard all applicants without regard to disability.

State and Local Laws

Familiarize yourself with state and local regulations regarding tenant screening, such as:

  • Application Fees: Some areas limit the amount you can charge for application fees.
  • Security Deposits: Laws often regulate the amount and handling of security deposits.
  • Notification Requirements: You may be required to notify applicants of their screening results.

Document Everything

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Always document your tenant screening process comprehensively in the application and reference check section, correspondence, and personal notes or interactions with the tenant. Documenting everything also serves as evidence if there is a legal battle to be waged and also enhances accountability in the process of decision-making.

Best Practices for Tenant Screening

  1. Use a Standardized Process: Create a standardized screening process to ensure consistency and fairness.
  2. Be Transparent: Clearly communicate your screening criteria to applicants upfront.
  3. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all screening activities and decisions to protect yourself in case of disputes.
  4. Stay Updated: Regularly review and update your screening criteria and processes to stay compliant with changing laws and best practices.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Skipping Steps: Don’t skip any part of the screening process to save time. Each step provides important information.
  2. Ignoring Red Flags: Pay attention to red flags, even if you’re in a hurry to fill a vacancy.
  3. Inconsistent Criteria: Applying different criteria to different applicants can lead to discrimination claims.
  4. Not Verifying Information: Always verify the information provided by applicants. Trust but verify.

Tenant screening is one of the most important components of property management that must not be overlooked. When utilizing such practices, landlords can avoid cases of default, choose tenants who will not neglect their lease commitments, and ensure that the property rental market is stable.

By following these practices, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with renting your property and ensure a positive experience for both you and your tenants.

Whether you own several properties or only one apartment, carry out a proper tenant screening so that you lay a good foundation for a healthy tenant-landlord relationship. By learning and applying the practices explained above, you will be well-equipped to carry out the tenant selection process and be assured of a good rental business for all interested parties.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a very small commission if you click through and make a purchase. These links help to pay the editorial costs of writing a blog. For more information, please read my full affiliate disclosure here.

I also use Artificial Intelligence Image generators to create some of my images. These are to show you examples of my ideas and inspiration when I cannot produce the real images myself.

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