How to Pre-Screen Potential Tenants

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Renting your home or apartment is a great way to invest in your future, but you definitely need to know what you are doing. Every landlord knows the importance of carefully screening potential tenants before anything is signed.  This typically begins by requiring the interested person to complete a detailed application form which will collect the applicant’s financial and credit details, references from past and current employers and landlords, and information about things like whether the applicant smokes, owns pets, or has ever been convicted of a felony.

However, getting this information is only the beginning – in order to make sure that you are protected, you need to follow through on the process of actually checking the information you have been provided – this means calling references, reviewing credit reports and obtaining a criminal background check. This process, however important, takes time and energy.  Savvy landlords know, however, that the screening process actually begins before the application – these landlords will ask several pre-screening questions when they are first contacted by the applicant that help them to determine if it is worth the time and energy to undertake a more careful screening. Here are a few things to find out before you take the process further.

How many people/pets will be living in the property?

This preliminary question is important to ask for a few reasons.  First, there are laws in some states against renting to more than two tenants per bedroom – this is in place to prevent over-crowding situations for reasons of safety and health.  It is also relevant because more people using the space means more wear and tear on carpets, bathrooms, appliances, and so on.  In this case, you may be justified in asking for a higher rent, or to exclude utilities or apply a premium if they are included.  Similarly, if there are pets, there is reason to anticipate that damage may occur as a result, and again you may want to increase the rent or include a damage clause.  This is something that could be discussed in your first contact with the potential tenant, and this will be their opportunity to decide if they are willing to pay a higher rent.  If not, then the conversation can end there.

Will they provide references from their employer and landlord?

For obvious reasons, you want to know something about their record of employment and especially about their reliability as a tenant.  Anyone who indicates that they are not prepared to give you that information, or who has a story about why that information is not available, should be politely declined during the first conversation.

Will they allow you to check their credit report and conduct a criminal background check?

Anyone who refuses to allow you to check their background or conduct a people search on them should be immediately passed over.  Potential credit problems may have a legitimate explanation, and a credible person will be prepared to let you check and will provide an explanation that you might accept.  Similarly, a criminal background check is necessary because you as the landlord may be responsible for criminal activity on your property. Again, you should not automatically discriminate against someone with a criminal past, but you should be wary of anyone who refuses to disclose it.

With these simple questions in mind as you take phone calls from people interested in renting your house or apartment, you can focus your screening efforts on serious applicants and find the right tenants for you.

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