5 Ways to Improve Tenant Screening

by Chris on October 13, 2014

Finding a new tenant is always something of a gamble. One bad tenant can become a nightmare for a rental property owner. That’s why it’s important to be picky.

The role of tenant screening is to increase the odds that only qualified tenants wind up in your rental property. But that’s easier said than done.

Here are five tenant screening strategies that can help you stay ahead of the game:

Verify Information in the Rental Application

It’s impossible to know how many rental applicants include false or misleading information, but odds are you’ll run across a few. If the number of false applications tracks the number of false resumes people submit for jobs, then landlords may be looking at one or two out of every ten applicants.

That’s enough risk to justify some skepticism about your current rental applicant. The rental application can be your best tool for catching a fraud, but it will only work if you use it. Look for gaps and inconsistencies in the rental application. Verify identification. Cross-check that information against a credit report and confirm that you have the same person, and that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Screen All Occupants

One common way for an unqualified tenant to sneak into a rental property is to move in with someone who is qualified. That person may end up being the only one living there at some point in the future. Each occupant should be qualified. Some landlords end up in the situation where they have no contact information on their only remaining tenant.

Likewise, it’s important for your long-term guest or new occupant policy to include the right to screen occupants. Landlord tenant laws differ, but generally landlords can reserve the right in the lease agreement.

Protect Tenant Privacy

Is it possible to find out too much about a tenant? The answer may depend on what a landlord does with that information. For instance, a previous landlord may criticize a tenant for “having too many children”, being a single parent, or flag the person as an alcoholic. If the new landlord acts on this information, it may be discrimination.

Understand that there is some information that is off limits when choosing your next tenant. Stick with tried and true methods of screening tenants, like running a credit report, and asking references about the tenant’s ability to perform responsibilities under the lease. Take care not to ask questions that are likely to solicit information that is private or protected — information that does not have any bearing on whether this tenant is qualified.

Also, landlords must take care not to disclose private tenant information, including what is contained in credit reports. Make sure those reports cannot be viewed by others who do not need access.

Don’t Meet Every Applicant

Use your rental ads to your advantage by including enough specifics so that a large portion of unqualified prospects will pass on the property. From there, spend time on the phone asking tenants about income, availability and their ability to comply with your rules before showing the property. Not only will this save time, but it will increase your chances of finding a better tenant.

Be Consistent With Tenant Screening

A lack of consistency in your tenant screening procedures will allow a problem tenant to slip through the cracks. Additionally, a pattern of treating rental applicants differently increases the risk of a discrimination charge, or makes such a charge harder to defend. You should be asking questions that can be applied to each and every applicant, and applying qualifications uniformly to rental applicants from all walks of life. Don’t fall for the professional tenant who presents as the perfect applicant.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marv Steier October 16, 2014 at 9:42 am

Good article Chris. Two very important points that Chris makes that many landlords/property managers don’t give enough consideration to are:

1) Discrimination
2.) Consistency with every applicant

There should be a procedure that you follow for each rent applicant that meets your criteria and that doesn’t discriminate. There might be something that you don’t like about the applicant and you don’t want to rent to him/her, so don’t. But use some common sense and only make notes or write in the file what isn’t going to get you into trouble. E.G. didn’t meet criteria…not a suitable applicant. Versus…something discriminatory.

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