4 steps you should never skip when screening potential tenants

Be thorough when looking at applicants and their history
  • Check your local and federal laws to make sure that none of the information you are gathering will contradict the Fair Housing Act or any other tenant protection legislation that may exist in your city or state.
  • Requiring both an application and an application fee is a good way to weed out those that are not interested in renting from you without spending an unnecessary amount of time on them.
  • A full tenant screening will give you a well-rounded view of who they are, what their payment habits are like and how much of a risk they might be. If an applicant has late payments, criminal files or was evicted from their last rental, it might be best to move on to the next applicant.

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A landlord’s worst nightmare is a tenant that he or she has to evict; it’s a costly and drawn out process with limited upside. Troublesome tenants are a headache best avoided, and the easiest way to do that is to key in on the most important steps of your tenant screening process.

Once you have a well thought-out process set up, you’ll be able to streamline it and save time without compromising the quality of the tenants that you accept into your rental property.

1. Put everything in writing

As a landlord, you want to avoid even the appearance of discrimination, and one of the best ways to do that is to be incredibly consistent.

Find the questions that need answers to determine if the applicant is someone that you want to rent to and put them in writing. Make sure you pose those questions to each and every applicant that comes your way.

Check your local and federal laws to make sure that none of the information you are gathering will contradict the Fair Housing Act or any other tenant protection legislation that may exist in your city or state.

2. Pre-screen every interested applicant

Some applicants will only be casually interested — willing to take a tour of the rental but unwilling to put the time into filling out a rental application or the money into paying the application fee.

Requiring both an application and an application fee is a good way to weed out those that are not interested in renting from you without spending an unnecessary amount of time on them.

Again it’s important to be consistent with your application to avoid the appearance of discrimination.

It’s also a good practice to be upfront with your applicants about any qualifications that you require. If you have a minimum credit score, a rent to income ratio or any other requirements, let them know up front. You don’t want them to waste your time, nor do you want to waste theirs.

3. Run a credit, criminal and eviction check every time

Most applicants will put their best foot forward when meeting with you. They might seem like they have everything together, but never rely only on your first impression of the individual.

A full tenant screening will give you a well-rounded view of who they are, what their payment habits are like and how much of a risk they might be.

If an applicant has late payments, criminal files or was evicted from their last rental, it might be best to move on to the next applicant.

Some applicants who would prefer to hide these things from you might try to pressure you into skipping this step, but in the end, this is time well-spent.

4. Verify that they can pay

A credit score is a great measure of someone’s payment history, but verifying a steady income and place of employment are also important.

Once again, you’ll want to check this information as thoroughly as possible. There are a couple of ways you can do this, either through professional references that you can contact to confirm this information or by asking for pay stubs from the applicant so that you can verify their place of employment, their income and that they have been employed there for a particular length of time.

In the end, the tenant screening process is one of the most crucial steps that you will take as a property manager or landlord, especially regarding protecting your investment.

Finding an excellent tenant is possible as long as you are willing to create and stick to a consistent process.

Copley Broer is co-founder and CEO of LandlordStation. Follow Copley on Twitter and Facebook.

Email Copley Broer.