How to Take the Guesswork Out of Tenant Screening

by Chris on May 7, 2018

Nightmare tenants don’t start out that way. They seem nice — at first. Before they stop paying rent or start making threats.

It’s extremely difficult to flag someone who is being dishonest, especially in the 45 minutes to an hour that a landlord typically spends with a new applicant. So, how can landlords avoid income loss from nightmare tenants? The answer is easy: stick to the script.

Take the guesswork out of screening tenants by focusing on the process, rather than trying to psychoanalyze each individual applicant.

To do this, a landlord must remain emotionally neutral. Once problem tenants find an opening — through flattery, charm, or appearing vulnerable and in need of saving — they can manipulate an unsuspecting landlord. Stick to the plan, and the red flags will become apparent.

Also, toss aside any preconceptions. Part of remaining emotionally neutral is not falling in love with the “ideal” tenant. Manipulative tenants are exceptionally good at what they do — appearing to be ideal. They will play to a landlord’s biases. By focusing on this ideal, the landlord may turn away a qualified tenant who doesn’t meet that vision, and rent to a tenant from hell who does.

So, start with a clean slate, no preconceptions, and follow each of these crucial tenant screening steps — each time — to catch bad tenants before they have a chance to cause income loss:

Prequalify Applicants. Two things are happening at this phase of tenant screening. First, the landlord needs to determine if the person is qualified. The earlier an unqualified prospect drops off, the better. Before agreeing to a property tour, ask an applicant:

When they are planning to move;
Why they are planning to move;
Whether they have sufficient income for the rent and if that source of income is verifiable;
Are they willing to undergo a tenant background check;
Do they have references from the current and previous landlords;
Can they abide by the rules like one car per unit, no-smoking and so on;
How many proposed occupants?

Note: Keep a record of this conversation, especially the contact information and compare it to the applicant’s photo ID and completed rental application.

Another important aspect of prequalification is an applicant’s attempt to test boundaries. Bad tenants tend to do this early on in the process. If the applicant is seeking concessions, like lower rent, no deposit, or paying in installments at this early stage, that’s a red flag. This applicant is testing to see if the landlord is easily manipulated. Remain firm.

Verify Identity. Warn the applicant that you need to see a photo ID. Arrange to meet the applicant at a safe location prior to the property tour. This can be as formal as a leasing office, or as informal as outside in the street. Either way, it is crucial to tenant screening — and personal safety — to check the photo ID prior to providing access to the property. If the ID doesn’t match the name given over the phone, that’s a non-starter.

Stay the Course! Bad tenants try to throw the landlord off track and avoid a tenant background check. Is the tenant in a rush to move in? If the applicant wants to pay cash on the spot or offers higher rent to move in immediately, that’s a red flag. It’s possible the person is being evicted or has a bad rental history. You don’t need to guess. Stick to the script, no matter how enticing the tenant’s offer. No one gets the keys without being vetted.

Provide a Rental Application. Because the landlord already has laid the groundwork, tenant screening becomes much easier from this point on. Review the completed rental application and see if the tenant appears qualified on the face of it. Intentional failure to complete sections or sign the agreement is a red flag. No need to go further.

Verify the Information on the Application. This can be accomplished by calling references and reviewing supporting documentation. Call the landlord references and confirm the rental history.

Run Tenant Screening Reports. This last step likely will result in confirming that the applicant is both credit-worthy and has a good rental history. Fortunately, tenant screening reports also serve as a filter to flag applicants who have not been honest about their qualifications.

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 is 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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

DIANE BAILEY May 8, 2018 at 6:18 am

Thank you for your information about what to do with renting, we had issues in the past, but would never rent to anyone wih out all the tips and back ground checking, thanks

Cindy Adams May 9, 2018 at 4:47 pm

I can’t stress enough how back ground and credit checks are important. I have found lately that big corporate companies have told some to seek out private owners as they won’t do a checks.

I do!

Theresa Nguyen May 17, 2018 at 7:48 am

Being diligent in the tenant screening process will save a lot of headaches in the long run. It may be more tedious to go through all the steps you’ve recommended, but it’s absolutely necessary!

Richard Lovasco September 27, 2018 at 5:07 am

IN MASS WHAT USUALLY HAPPEN S. WHEN AFTER FOUR YEARS OF DOING A LEASE ONE YEAR SHE SIGN,S ONTHET YEAR ONE MONTH LATER SHE TELLS ME SHE,S GONNA MOVE BREAK THE LEASE I HAVE TRIED TO WORK WITH HER AT THIS TIME SHE LEASE ANOTHER PLACE AND THIS WAS DONE FOR THE REASON SHE SAID SHE FOUND HER DREAM PLACE AND SAID SHE,S MOVING IN WITH HER SISTER ???WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GO ABOUT THIS AND WHAT WHOULD BE HER CONSEQUENCES. PLEASE REPLY

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