Preparation Key to Avoiding Long Vacancy: How to Fast Track Tenant Screening

by Chris on October 25, 2010

Are you ready to fill your next vacancy?  Worried that if you don’t get someone right away, you’ll lose rental income? 

Here’s an unfortunate fact: it will cost a landlord more money to rent to a bad tenant than if they wait to find the right tenant.

How can a landlord win in this situation?

By being prepared.  Master the tenant screening process.  Do the groundwork ahead of time, and have a plan in place.

Here are some tips to Fast Track  tenant screening:

Set the Stage for Quick Turnaround

Whenever possible, anticipate vacancies far enough in advance to update your rental ad, spruce up your sign and review your script for pre-screening calls.

Use targeted advertising.  Which method of advertising delivers the best applicants?  Often, it is a rental sign or local posting that work best, because the applicants who respond already like the area.  These applicants are the most motivated to rent, and most likely to stay.  But find out what works for you. You don’t necessarily want a high volume of applicants calling.  It’s better to quickly find one qualified applicant. 

Be precise in determining rent and the terms of your tenancy ahead of time.  This discourages renters who won’t qualify and encourages those who do. 

Be ready to run credit reports.   Landlord have options regarding which type of credit report to choose.  For instance, a landlord in a hurry may want to order a credit decision report  that flags credit problems automatically.  The landlord need not pour over pages of numbers to figure out if the applicant is a good risk.   Another advantage to the credit decision report is time.  These reports are available to landlords instantly without the need for the process called “underwriting”, a credit agency requirement that includes a site inspection.

If a landlord wishes to view full tenant credit reports, it is wise to undergo the site inspection ahead of time, before filling a vacancy.

Stick to the Script With Tenant Screening

Job Number One when you are in a hurry is to cut the unqualified applicants loose before you waste any more time. 

Have a script in mind for screening phone calls from applicants. Stick to the script when it comes to pre-screening and screening interview questions.  Not only will you save time and get the information you need in a hurry, but you will avoid slips of the tongue that can lead to discrimination claims. 

It is quite common for housing authorities  to pose as applicants in order to investigate landlords accused of  discriminatory practices. A study conducted last year in Toronto showed that a significant number of  landlords who were unwittingly part of a phone survey would tell some persons that the rental was no longer available, but then moments later tell another person it was.  You don’t know who you are talking to on the phone, so be consistent. Know what kinds of questions are prohibited, and treat every applicant the same.

Next, get all of the tenant screening information in writing.  A completed rental application shows a commitment on the part of the applicant, and gives you ample information to check and cross-check for discrepancies in order to weed out the fraudsters.

Got References?

Talking to the current or previous landlord is both quick and crucial when it comes to tenant screening.  It’s one of the most efficient and effective ways to avoid problem tenants. Prepare some questions in advance that you would like to ask the last persons who rented to this 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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

HLL October 26, 2010 at 5:56 am

In Ontario, it is especially important that landlords screen tenants carefully, as eviction can take several months and tenants often damage the unit out of spite (and because, without damage deposits, who’s to stop them?).

I’m a very busy individual, so I choose to do screening by e-mail rather than by phone. I will post free ads on Kijiji and Craigslist and only include my e-mail address. I then respond to respondents with a list of several pre-screening questions and only when they’ve answered these will I schedule a visit. I require all visitors to call me an hour before the visit to confirm. They don’t call, I don’t show up, simple as that.

If they’re interested, applicants must fill out an rent application form as well as a TVS credit check authorization form and I will accept these only with a certified cheque for last month’s rent, which I will only cash if I accept the application. At this time, it is wise to get a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license (proof of signature and also full name).

If I accept the application, I make sure to get first month’s rent in a certified cheque before handing over the keys. If you do not rent all inclusive, it is wise to get your future tenant to prove they have put the utilities in their name.

So there you have it: It isn’t easy, nor is it fast, but it’s safe. If you have more questions feel free to look me up under this handle at the Ontario Landlords Association (OLA) forums.


HLL October 26, 2010 at 5:59 am

In Ontario, never NEVER say the reason why you rejected an application. Simply tell the rejected applicant that they did not meet your screening criteria and that it is your policy not to discuss your screening criteria with anyone. Not a word more than that. Don’t say they unit is taken if it isn’t.

The more you say, the more ammunition you are giving them in a potential case against you for violations of their human rights.

Scott November 20, 2010 at 7:02 pm

You rule HLL. And the Ontario Landlords Association is a great resource along with TVS!!

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