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Hints for screening your tenants

January 30, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time screening tenants lately as we just rented out a property that we are managing and I currently have a vacancy.  In my opinion this is the area where you can make the biggest mistakes as a landlord.  I took some mental notes this round of some helpful hints:

  • Develop a comprehensive application. Your application should include the basics:  employment information, residential history, and the general stuff like Social security numbers, drivers license numbers, dates of birth, and other contact info.  Be sure there is a space for the man and wife to complete their job history, employment, etc.  Also, be sure you can read the application before they leave it with you.
  • Pull their credit.  They may look and sound great in person, but don’t try and save a buck here – pull the credit.  Having said this, don’t be shocked at what you find.  I usually ignore most of the medical stuff, a few cell phone contracts they did not follow through with and the occasional utility bill they forgot to shut off.   I am really looking for Apartment write-offs, evictions, lawsuits, bankruptcies, late pay history, charge-offs, etc.
  • Check with their previous landlord. Always call their current landlord – don’t skip this step or just take their word for it.  Also make sure the address listed on the application matches the current address in their credit report.  I sometimes try and go further back and check with their previous landlord before their current one too. If there are other addresses on there then try and trace information on that landlord as well.  If there are too many previous addresses, then this might be a red flag – ask them about it. I try and match the various addresses on the credit report with those provided on the application. Lots of googling and in-depth research goes on here. Look for holes in their story and if you find one ask them about it. If nothing else, it shows them you are thorough.
  • Verify their employment.  I always verify employment.  I usually just call their supervisor that they list in the application and ask some basic questions.  You might want to have them bring you recent paystubs – this will allow you to verify social security numbers, names, etc.  Asking for paystubs will not scare a tenant away that is seriously interested in renting your house.  I was afraid to ask for this when I started, now I just ask for it.
  • Drive by their current house or apartment.  Check out how many cars, do they park in the front yard, are there 8 pit bulls in the back yard?  What is the condition of the house, yard mowed, etc?
  • Drive by their place of employment.   I obviously call as well, but if I just get a hello and the person that answers happens to be their supervisor, then I drive by their place of employment.

Check your tenants out thoroughly, you are about to give them access to your property and sign a legal document with them.   Just make sure that you are basing your decision for legitimate reasons, such as length of employment, rental history, credit, etc.

My final recommendation would be to trust your gut.  As they are viewing the home and as you are interacting with them through the application process you should get a feel for whether or not they are confrontational in nature. This is essentially the interview portion of your tenant screening.  Pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. Do they sound deceptive or honest and trustworthy? Will picking up and rent and interacting with your new tenants be the experience you expect – Will they show respect for your authority as a landlord?  If something does not seem right, then don’t rent to them.  It is easy for someone to move in, but much more difficult to get a bad tenant out.

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