Landlords: Are You Prescreening Your Tenants?

by Chris on August 1, 2016

What’s the best way to avoid a problem tenant? The answer is simple: eliminate unqualified applicants early in the tenant screening process. The fewer bad applicants in the queue, the less likely one will make into the rental.

That can be easier said than done. Speed is of the essence in the leasing process. No one wants to have a vacancy roll into the next month. With tons on applications to sort through, there may not be enough time to digest it all. Bad tenants know this, and take advantage of the landlord’s rush to find a renter.

 tenant screeningBy taking the time to prescreen applicants, the tenant screening process becomes more efficient and more effective. There’s less time on the phone, less time showing the unit, and more time to carefully vet the final candidate.

Put Your Rental Ad to Work

This strategy begins early, with the rental ad. First, you need to be specific so that only those tenants who are interested in the property and amenities will take the next steps. A volume of rental applicants does not guarantee quality applicants. Include the proposed rent, along with size and location, so that unqualified prospects can weed themselves out.

Then, advise prospects that you will be conducting a tenant background check. This is viewed positively by good tenants, who want to know that you vet your renters, and at the same time serves as a deterrent to those who are trying to hide a bad rental history.

Filter the Unqualifieds

When a prospect responds to the rental ad, have your qualification checklist handy or have it clear in your mind so that you know the thresholds. Apartment seekers get confused over which ads they have responded to, so go over your property specs with the applicant before you waste your time with someone who is not interested or qualified.

Confirm that the tenant has sufficient income to pay the rent.

Landlord Tip: In many areas, it is illegal to reject an applicant over government assistance, child support or other sources of income. In addition, this criteria will disqualify many perfectly good tenants.

Go over your rules, like smoke-free or pets policies, parking issues and so on. Don’t proceed if the tenant has objections or can’t adapt to your rules.

Move In Ready?

Showing a unit is a huge time commitment, so don’t take it lightly. Imagine yourself traveling across town and going through an hour-long tour and Q&A session only to discover the tenant isn’t planning to move for two more months. Always ask about the applicant’s availability before showing a specific unit.

In addition to knowing when the tenant is moving, it’s good to know why. Are they leaving before the end of their current lease term? Is there a good reason, or is the person dodging an eviction?

Who’s Who?

Ask about other proposed occupants. If you are looking at renting to roommates, you will want to prescreen each to determine if the group is qualified. Do these applicants understand that they each individually could be liable for the rent? For damage to the property? Does the property support the number of occupants?

Landlord Tip: Occupancy limits are a sticky legal issue for landlords. The popular “two people per bedroom” rule may conflict with laws prohibiting housing discrimination, even where those occupancy limits are written into local zoning ordinances or HOA rules. Be careful when advertising or rejecting applicants based on the number of family members per bedroom. A studio or “single” unit easily can house a baby or younger child. A ‘bonus’ room or den may be suitable for sleeping. Don’t assume that a large family is unqualified for your unit. Speak with a local attorney to find out your precise limits.

Any information you receive from an applicant is important for the tenant screening process. If the prospect on the phone ends up being your first choice, you will want to have a record of the initial conversations. That way, when you check a photo ID, ask for a rental application, and run your tenant screening reports, you will have a better chance of catching a scammer.

Practicing this skill of prescreening applicants before showings not only saves time, it also increases  your chances of finding a good tenant.

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.

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