How to Screen Tenants for a Rental Property in 8 Steps

Cody Cromwell
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Prescreen Potential Tenants

In the rental industry, screening potential tenants is a necessity. For your own safety, you can’t just run a credit check; that leaves a lot of potential hazards.

It’s important to ask some basic questions to find out if your potential tenants will pay their rent on time. A few questions to ask include:

How long do they intend to stay?

What are their reasons for leaving? Run-ins with the police or eviction notices, etc.

What are they doing now? Where are they working? What is their permanent address?

What monthly rent do they intend to pay?

How much deposit do they intend to pay?

What is their renters insurance?

You’ll also want to note down their answers to any questions you ask. In addition, ask if you can call anyone on the list and ask additional questions specific to your property.

At this point, you should have a good understanding of the people you’re considering letting into your home. However, there’s one final step that you’ll want to take before signing a lease with them.

Determine What Questions to Ask Potential Tenants

When you’re screening potential tenants for a rental property, it’s important to first determine what questions to ask of them. There are many different questions you could ask a potential tenant, from questions about their financial history and rental history to address questions about references and personal details. Other questions you might ask include:

  • Are you looking for a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom or 4 bedroom?…Are you renting a property for a short term or long term?…Are you looking to rent for a month or more?…Are you self-employed?
  • Are you looking for a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom or 4 bedroom?…Are you renting a property for a short term or long term?…Are you looking to rent for a month or more?…Are you self-employed?

Questions on tenant history can often be quite complex. A landlord may ask a tenant’s previous landlord for the account numbers to review their rental history with a service such as RentTrack to check out their credit and eviction history.

Information on a potential tenant’s rental history generally includes:

Include Co-applicants and Co-signers

For those of you who have pets, it's essential that your tenant(s) not bring any pets into the home. For those of you who are renting to individuals, co-applicants and co-signers will have to sign the application as well. So, include your co-signers and co-applicants on the application.

Make sure that you have some information (such as names, phone numbers, etc.) on your co-applicants and co-signers that's specific to them. An important rule to follow when dealing with a landlord or property manager is that you never give out the last names of anyone you're co-signing for, including family members. It is illegal for you to do this, and it may lead to your landlord terminating your tenancy (and lease) at any time. So, make sure that your co-signers and co-applicants provide their first and last names as well as phone numbers and, at the very least, addresses.

Screen Tenants by Checking Their Credit

If you choose the right tenant, then you’re good to go with the lease. If you go the other way, you can end up a tenant tenant or a tenant at will. That’s because the rental agreement becomes the terms of the relationship if you don’t disclose all of your requirements before signing the lease.

While you really don’t want to be the landlord who gets a bad tenant, it’s also quite important that you think about the tenant’s good qualities as well. Many landlords are scrupulous about following the letter of the law because they like the idea of screening tenants in the most thorough way possible. If you don’t take the time to do so, then you might end up with a big problem on your hands.

Run Criminal Background Checks

Running a criminal background check is a must-do before renting out your property. This article will show you how to screen potential tenants for criminal records.

There are many advantages of being able to run tenant screening reports before renting out your property. You can run a tenant background report for free and you don’t have to be a lawyer or licensed agent to search for criminal and eviction charges.

Consumers today can do that online for free using a search engine. It’s a good idea to screen tenants for a variety of reasons. At this stage of the game, you know only their name and basic information. Everything else is going to come out in the due diligence phase.

In general, there are two types of background checks: criminal and rental history.

Criminal background checks are also known as criminal history checks and look for any criminal or criminal-related details. You want to make sure that your tenant has no records of these types of crimes.

Rental history is a report on the criminal background of the individual. This is most often conducted as part of the landlord-tenant screening process.

A tenant screening report helps you learn whether a person is well suited to rent your property. The report will show if the person has conviction information or has been evicted from any of the properties you currently available for rent.

Handling Negative Results

In a Tenant Screening, Background and Credit Check.

When screening a tenant – making sure the person that’s going to move into your commercial property doesn’t have a criminal background, past eviction or a poor credit history – it’s important to seek out solid information. This is especially true when screening a tenant for commercial property because there’s often more to consider than you think, such as landlord/tenant issues or building code concerns.

Here’s a list of questions you can ask or even review in a tenant screening report:

  • Character
  • Personal Habits
  • Payback Times (on time or late)
  • Reputation
  • Suspension Notice
  • Lab Results

Please note that no perfect record exists. There’s always a certain risk involved in screening a person for property. In this post, we’ve outlined a number of factors that go into the landlord/tenant screening process. These factors are:

  • Credit Check…
  • Credit Score
  • Background Check
  • Drug Test

You can use Google or a similar service to find tenants to rent or buy property with.

Verify Income & Employment

Residential lease applications typically start with a request from the tenant for verification of financial and employment information. These are easy questions to answer, because there’s a lot of information about someone available in public records. You’ll need to find and supply your tenants’ name, address, phone number, and Social Security number. If they’re under the age of 18, you’ll also need their date of birth. This information is available in public records, so you’ll be able to locate it quickly … provided that your tenant has provided it correctly.

Documentation indicating that your tenant has a job and sufficient income will do a lot to convince an investor of your tenant’s credit-worthiness. On your application, you’ll ask for separate verification of employment from your tenant as well as copies of all source documentation (such as pay stubs, W2s, and Social Security cards) to back up the verification.

Ask for Nothing More

Approaches to verification verification are as different as the people who provide them, but they fall into two general categories.

Check Previous Addresses, Landlords & Eviction History

If you are planning to use an online service like Trulia to help you screen potential tenants, get their credit report and credit score for free. It’s a good place to start. Obviously if the credit score was less than 800, you are not going to want to see that tenant again.

Also, you should generally not hire anyone with a criminal record until you follow the next tip. This will serve you well in the long run. If you aren’t familiar with the credit reporting agencies (like Experian, Equifax or TransUnion), they are easy to find in your local library. (You’ll need to make sure this will be the agency that you use though.)

Either way, check the criminal history for any convictions involving criminal activity … such as breaking and entering, arson, armed robbery, assault and battery, larceny and shoplifting, and vandalism. People who have records might not have such a hard time finding another place to live, but they will certainly have a harder time finding a place to live. And the very last thing that you want to have, is a tenant with a criminal record who turns out to be a repeat offender, even if the tenant gets a job they can’t keep.

Evicting Tenants in a Bad Location

For some people, evictions are an unpleasant memory.

Interview Prospective Tenant & Co-Applicants

First you should know beforehand what your type of landlord is and what you are looking for in a tenant. If you’ve never been in this situation before then you might not know how to handle it. Take some time out and note down your thoughts so you don’t make any hasty decisions.

You should also research the neighborhood you’re willing to live in and the rent availability in the area. If you identify a rental property that appeals to you but the rent is too high, you should try to negotiate with the landlord. You could negotiate a lower rent in return for a better clause for you, for example.

Nowadays most landlords want to walk into their rental property to inspect it, this only fair that you do the same to judge if it is suitable for you. Take a quick look and see if the interior meets your standards.

If you have some questions about the property then ask them but remember you do not need to go into lengthy explanations, otherwise you will just have to answer the same question over and over again.

To make the tenant feel comfortable talk to his or her references. You can take care of any information you are unsure of as property usually has a detailed contract which should answer all the legitimate questions you might have.

Accept or Reject the Applicant After Screening

There’s one more option after screening an applicant at first. You could simply choose to accept or reject the applicant.

If you accept the applicant, you’ll need to get a credit check done to ensure that the applicant is approved for the loan. This can be done at Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

By choosing to reject the applicant, you’ll need to cancel the application.

If you reject the applicant, make sure to send him or her a rejection letter indicating why the application was rejected.

If you reject the applicant, make sure to send him or her a rejection letter indicating why the application was rejected.

Denying an Applicant After Tenant Screening

Once you have learned the key tenant screening mistakes that can occur in your tenant screening process, and you know about the benefits of a professionally run tenant screening process, you are ideally in a position to proceed with your tenant screening.

However, just because you have screened your applications to a level that would satisfy your own standards and requirements, does not mean you can proceed to approve or deny the remaining applications.

This would be a mistake in which you run the risk of breaching the duty of care you owe to your tenants. Even if you feel that your screening process is extremely thorough, and that none of the applicants would cause you any harm or be a liability, you have still conducted the screening process to your client’s detriment. So you should understand that once you have satisfied yourself that you have rejected all of the applicants who are landlord-friendly, it is now up to you to provide them with reasons why they were rejected.

To help you do this, Rob Cargill, Managing Director of Landlord Approved Approved, has put together this comprehensive guide which will help you to screen, review, and send tenant screening rejections.

By following the instructions in this guide, you will be able to screen your applicants for the tenant screening process, and take the appropriate steps to reject unsuitable tenants, saving both time and money.

Tips for How to Screen Tenants for Rental Property

Screening potential tenants for a rental property is one of the most important and necessary steps you will take when renting. Not only will this ensure the safety of your property, it will help you ensure you will have a functioning and profitable rental property.

If the property is a wreck, tenants are less likely to even sign a lease. This can scare off potential tenants, so it’s imperative to be thorough and firm in the process.

The rent roll in every property goes up and down. How can you know which tenants are the ones who are going to be a problem? It’s right here that you will want to check for evictions, criminal history, and most importantly, credit history. If a tenant has a good credit score, she’s less likely to be a bad tenant.

Engage in a series of meetings and discussions to learn more about the tenant and her history. If a tenant has been evicted, be sure to learn what happened and why. It’s also good to find out what his fears are if asked.

Where there is evicted or current criminal tenant, the landlord will most likely have to go through a process other than credit and background checks for finding the next tenant. To find out more about how to screen tenants, read on.

Customize Your Tenant Screening Questions

Before you can start a tenant screening process, it’s important to know which questions you’re looking for your applicants to answer. In this post, we’ll cover an example tenant screening process for renting an apartment. You can use the steps and the questions covered in the example to fine-tune your own. Because the purpose of the post is to outline a tenant screening process, you can think of it as a self-guided tour around an apartment that you’re about to rent.

When you start making your own tenant screening questions for an apartment you want to rent, it’s a good idea to customize your initial screening questions to match the type of property and its demographics.

In this example, we’re showing a screening template that can be used for rentals in a typical urban neighborhood with a large number of renters in their 20s, 30s and 40s. If you’re renting an apartment in a college town or near a military base, you’ll probably want to stick to renting to college students or soldiers on furlough, hence the different types of applicants screened in this article.

Make the Screening Process Easy for the Tenant

Most prospective tenants expect there to be a screening process before moving in. However, do they really know what to expect in your screening process? Probably not.

If you want to keep privacy and security in mind, it is important to keep your screening process as simple as possible for the tenant. Doing so will increase the likelihood that they will actually complete it.

Here are eight steps you can use to properly screen tenants for a rental property.

Market Your Property Online

Nowadays, having a property for rent and keeping it with the right tenant are the biggest challenges that a landlord faces. Luckily, technology helps us manage it easier. One way of doing is to go online and post it on your property for rent. For that, you need access to the Internet and a good website for it. Our website is very obvious for your visitors.

You can choose to show your property by getting started with a website especially created for that purpose. Itís an attractive way to market your property online.

Your website can include pictures of your property and add them in an appealing way for your visitors.

You can also put in your information such as your phone number where your visitors can reach you. This will help you receive the phone calls from people who are interested in renting your property.

You can also connect with your visitors through different social media platforms. Social networking sites are a good way of building a good rental network.

Hire a Professional Property Manager

A property manager take care of your property and also manage the tenants. A professional property manager has experience on how to manage these issues.

Apart from helping with your tenants, they also help you to maintain the property. A property manager has the thought of maintaining the property according to the needs of the tenants.

Additionally, they also keep the place clean hygienically and ensure that the visitors donít have any problem.

Use Property Management Software to Screen Tenants

Another important tenant screening tool that you can use to screen out bad tenants before they even sign the lease is property management software. This software offers a comprehensive suite of tenant screening features that let you screen out bad tenants.

Enter a Rental Property Address

Through property management software, you can have your rental property address automatically populated on the software’s tenant screener. However, there are two important things you have to keep in mind before using this feature. First, the address needs to be a street name, which will help you locate the tenant’s apartment so that you can personally screen them out if you find them. Second, the address needs to be included on the lease, or you need to be able to match the address with the records on file with the local county government. If you cannot provide the address for a tenant on the lease and they need to sign it, they can sign a paper with other information, but then there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to locate the property or the tenant at all. The address is just one part of the screening process, so even if you’re able to find a tenant at their address and screen them out ahead of time, there’s no telling what they’re up to when you’re not looking.

How to Screen Tenants Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Before you start renting out your property, you will want to make sure your tenants are the best fit for your property. When choosing tenants for your rental property, there are a few key questions to be answered. Here are some frequently asked questions that you should be prepared to answer when screening tenants for your rental property.

Q: How often do you have new tenants move in/out of your property?

A: Research shows that tenants move back into their old apartments 74% of the time, and are expected to stay for an average of 13.2 years. Knowing how often your property is re-rented will help you set up the right amount and type of screening for tenant screening.

Q: How long does it take for a landlord to screen renters?

A: Most landlords expect to screen a tenant for between 1-7 days. However, with the advancement of landlord screening services online, a lot of landlords will complete tenant screening in 1 hour or less.

Q: Where can landlords find good tenant screening companies?

A: If you have a property management company that you’ve worked with in the past, you may want to ask them for recommendations. By using the same company to manage your tenant screening, you’ll be guaranteed you’re getting the very best tenant screening services.

Q: Can landlords screen tenants by email?

What are illegal questions to ask rental applicants?

The rental application is an important document for all renters, for both the tenant and landlord. Part of the document contains questions that the landlord fills out to take note of a tenant’s qualities and personality and assess whether or not the tenant is of good character. The questions, however, don’t need to do more than that.

If landlords feel the need to impose additional questions on the application, written or oral, which are not explicitly stated in the document itself, the questions are illegal. These are the questions to avoid.

How much do you make a year?

No matter how a landlord interprets a potential tenant’s answer to this question, it is against the law. The only permissible reason to ask this question is if the tenant fits the income criteria for subsidized rent – but even then, the answer is not required.

Which sports teams do you follow?

If you follow this question, the landlord is only interested in a tenant’s response in order to determine whether to rent to you. This is unacceptable and illegal.

Under what circumstances do you consider selling your home?

Again, this question is illegal. Personally, I do not approve of a landlord’s method of identifying information on the real estate market. The answer to this question can be left blank.

How do I find renters for rental property?

Finding tenants for a rental property can be a pain. Tenants for a rental property are not forced to pay rent and can simply decide not to pay it after the first week, so landlords must be thorough when screening them in order to select only reliable tenants.

How do I choose between rental applicants?

After you’ve completed all the necessary steps to accommodate prospective tenants, how do you choose between them?

This is arguably the most important question, and the decision you make can have a big impact on the management of your rental property. Here’s an eight-step process to help you screen the applicants.

Bottom Line

Really don’t think you can do it? Think it will be too difficult to find the last tenants who left the property in terrible condition? Disagree with the landlord and decide to fight him?

Well take a moment to step back and review where this business relationship is headed. Don’t you owe it to yourself to get it right this time?

If you find you’re definitely going to lose against a disgruntled landlord, don’t be surprised if you can’t find tenants to take over his property. It has happened to me a number of times and I have to admit that it is frustrating and demoralizing.

There are a number of strategies that can help you deal with a hard to please, dishonest or unreasonable landlord. Let’s get to some of those strategies.