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What Does it Mean to Screen Someone?

Screening is one of the best ways to evaluate and investigate your potential tenant to ensure they will be a good fit for the property you’re renting. While the rental application will provide you with valuable baseline information, the screening is crucial in finding out rental and job history, credit, and criminal backgrounds.

What Makes a Great Tenant?

While a clean history and proper screening don’t always guarantee absolute smooth sailing, in the long run, there are a few desirable qualities that one should look for in a potential tenant. According to professional property management companies like Utopia Management, these are strong indicators that your tenant will be reliable and responsible and make a great fit.

  1. They have a history of paying their rent on time.
  2. They have a strong sense of communication throughout the application process. Responsiveness is a good indicator that they will keep in touch throughout the life of the lease regarding maintenance or landlord inquiries.
  3. They have a history of stable employment and income. This is important so that you can rest assured knowing they will be able to pay their rent in a timely manner.
  4. They are clear of any relevant criminal convictions. 
  5. They’re an all-around nice person to interact with. This is a bonus that will make your landlord-tenant relationship much more pleasant.

Every landlord varies in what they are looking for in a prospective tenant, but the aforementioned qualities are a great place to start when making your selection.

Make Your Expectations Known

Addressing your minimum requirements on the rental ad is important and will help filter those interested in applying for your property. By listing your standards, it’s more likely that only those who meet those standards will reach out and move on to the next stage of screening. This will also save you and interested renters time during the process. If one of your expectations is to have at least 6 months’ worth of income to prove stable employment and the interested party does not have that, then odds are they won’t spend the money to submit an application, and you won’t have to call them back letting them know that they don’t qualify. A few examples of expectations a landlord might set are:

  1. Requesting a referral from their current or past landlord as a reference. This will be a good look at what kind of tenant they’ve been in the past.
  2. Always be upfront about whether you require a background or credit check.
  3. It’s common to require at least three times the cost of rent in income.
  4. Look into prior evictions and be willing to discuss them. There are certain areas where it is important to have an open mind and explore the topic further before writing someone off. 

It’s always better to be overly specific in what you are looking for than under-specific leaving room for grey areas. Be honest with yourself and your tenants. Let them know the specific circumstances in which when they can expect a demand letter, or specify the type of circumstance in which you’d take an issue to court. Knowing these difficult details early on can prevent a lot of conflict. 

Tailor Your Application to Your Property

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Be sure to include all of the baseline questions that you will need to conduct your research, but include questions specific to your property and your expectations. Do you allow pets to live on your property? If so, you should ask how many animals the tenant has, what kind, and the weight. Include any questions that you’d like to know the answer to on the application, saving you time in the screening process. The necessary information that must be included in the application is as follows:

  1. Full name, current address, driver’s license, and phone number 
  2. Social security number and date of birth
  3. Current landlord’s contact information (and possibly previous if that is one of your desired expectations)
  4. Current employer’s contact information
  5. Criminal or eviction history
  6. A release of information signature

Contact References and Ask Questions

Now that you’ve got your applications, you can begin your research. Contacting references is one of the best places to start. While unfortunate and uncommon, people do lie on their applications when it comes to their employment status or rental history. Contacting references and confirming employment and rental past will quickly weed out those who are unqualified to move forward in the screening process. Be sure to spend a little extra time asking past landlords about their experience with the potential tenant. Did they pay rent on time? Were they reliable when it came to reporting a maintenance concern? Did they ever receive any complaints from neighbors? These are great questions to ask and offer some insight into the person who may be living on your property.

Assess a Tenant’s Credit and History

This is a crucial step in screening a prospective tenant and can ultimately be the deciding factor in your acceptance of their application. Background checks are also a necessary precaution in ensuring that the person is who they claim to be. Again, this is uncommon to come across, but people do lie on their applications, so be sure to do your research. You’ll also be able to see their criminal and eviction history in addition to any fraud that they may have been charged with in the past. There is no need for you to become a private eye for this portion of the screening process; there are companies who provide this service to you, saving you time and hassle. These services do incur costs, so it is common to require an application fee upon submission.

The Fair Housing Act

Screening prospective tenants is perfectly appropriate and necessary for selecting the perfect candidate, but discriminating against someone for any of the following reasons outlined in The Fair Housing Act is illegal. This Act prohibits discrimination in housing due to:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

Be sure to abide by the Fair Housing Act and any other landlord-tenant laws that may pertain to you based on state or county. It’s pertinent to understand and comply with both federal and state laws when renting out properties.

Accepting Your New Tenant

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Of course, with only one acceptance, there will be a few declined candidates, and it is important to document the reason that each was declined. Whether it be that the interested tenant had a history of late rent or didn’t submit an application in time, making note of these reasons will ensure that there was no possible discrimination taking place in your decision.

You are finally ready to select and accept a tenant, and thanks to this handy guide, you can do so confidently! 

Published by HOLR Magazine.