This week Landlord Hank blogs on his own tenant screening and selection tips and ideas including some of the personal assessments he does in his tenant selection.

By Landlord Hank

I was very proudly showing my very first rental property, which had been extensively renovated, to a nicely groomed and mannered young woman. She arrived for her tour, on time,  in a newer vehicle, praising the property and saying she’d love to rent it.

I fancied myself as astute and a good judge of character so I thought I’d skip the tenant screening step. Instead, I had her fill out an application and pay the fee.

I told applicant I would let her know later in the day. As I thought more about not screening this tenant I decided to reconsider. I did screen her and found out she was in the process of eviction and hadn’t paid rent in three months!

So do not learn the hard way. Here are some questions and answers to help your tenant screening.

Question: The landlord/investor has the property ready to rent-everything has been repaired and works properly, the unit is clean and looks great, inside and out. You have shown the property to a tenant prospect that seems to fit your criteria and can move in quickly. So what is the next step?

Answer: This step is CRITICAL and if this step is not handled properly, the landlord will know first-hand why the landlord role is not for everyone.

Tenant screening begins with your personal assessment of the prospective tenant and prospect’s family.

  • Are prospects clean and well groomed?
  • Are kids bouncing off the walls, etc?
  • Is the car they drove up in falling apart and filthy? Or nice?
  • Would you want to live next to these people?

The application is the key that unlocks the real truth to how this prospect conducts life and relationships.

Submitted with the application are driver’s license copy or photo ID so you know the people you are checking out are the people that are applying for your apartment, and not a brother or a friend of the real applicant using someone else’s information, social security number, etc.

You also want verification of income. Preferably you want the last two years tax returns, or bank statements for last three months and pay stubs from work.

The application will request the following:

  • Biographical information, name, current and previous addresses
  • Contact information – not just the tenant but others such as relatives and emergency contacts
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Work history
  • Signed authorization for you to run credit and background checks

Your application fee should pay for this screening process. There are tenant screening companies that will handle this process and send you a summary. Or, you can set up with a company to run credit and background checks and you as landlord can check work and residential history by calling references.

All adults must be screened and on the lease.

Calling the previous landlord as part of tenant screening

So if you decide that you, as the landlord, will verify residential/employment history, here is what you do next:

Your first phone call should be to the current landlord. If it starts with someone answering the phone “Hello,” then questions immediately arise in your mind as to who is answering this phone as it does not sound like a professional landlord. Is it really a landlord or owner of a rental property and this is their only rental? Or, is this the applicant’s best friend or relative?

When this has happened to me, I tell them my name and say the applicant is using them as a reference and how does this person know that applicant?

I don’t tell them applicant is looking to rent from me, etc.

Sometimes I hear that the applicant is this “landlord’s” (again, is it really a landlord?) relative or friend and they are staying with them or other times the person answering the phone says that applicant used to, or still does, rent from them.

What to ask when you get on the phone with previous landlord

At this point, I ask if they would be willing to answer some questions concerning the applicant. Sometimes I must send the prospective tenant’s signed application which contains authorization for release of information.

The questions I want answered are:

  • Rent amount paid to this landlord
  • Term of occupancy
  • Payment history
  • Notice of termination of lease given (usually 30-60 days)
  • Any damage to property
  • Any unauthorized guests or pets
  • Eligibility for renting to this person again
  • Anything else this landlord thinks I should know?

Now what do you do as a landlord?

You have the information you want but can you trust that information?

In this situation, I’ve immediately called the tenant and asked for clarification of this rental situation and asked:

  • Is this landlord a family member or friend?
  • Please send me a copy of your lease to this property now. Can the prospect come up with a lease?

Then I move on to next residential history to see if this one be verified or not?

If not, then I don’t feel comfortable renting to this applicant and they are rejected and we move on.

You must feel comfortable with the new tenants. You must be satisfied that they make enough money to pay the rent AND have enough left to live on. Also that their history shows they will take care of your property, pay rent and not disturb others.

Their credit history demonstrates that they pay their responsibilities, and that they aren’t a violent criminal. This is the most important step in the entire process of renting your property.

Do this like it is important because the tenant relationship governs, for the most part, your landlording experience for the next year.

If you rent to a reasonable, responsible tenant and you are a good landlord, this experience should be very rewarding. How long should screening process take? Usually about 24- to 48 hours depending upon responsiveness of tenants references.

Keep up communication with prospective tenants

Let tenants know your progress so they know you are working on getting them clearance and what or who is the hold up.

Perhaps the prospective tenant provided an incorrect or old email address or phone number, etc.

Don’t learn the hard way!

Find a tenant you are comfortable with after you have reviewed their background and credit history, or keep looking.   Never settle for someone you don’t feel good about just to get the rent coming in. If you settle, the first months’ rent may be all you receive! One final thought, do not let a prospective tenants rush to move in change the vetting protocol. If tenants can’t wait for normal procedures to transpire, that is normally a bad sign (like sheriff is at the door with eviction crew, etc).

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Tenant screening

Landlord Hank at work on one of his properties.