Guide To Screening New Tenants For Your Rental Property

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The thing about screening tenants for your rental property is that, your standards should never be arbitrary and you should never be subjective or emotionally driven when selecting your future tenant. The process of screening is crucial, especially in the long run. As a matter of fact, many experts consider screening tenants more important than getting the highest market rent.  Why? For the simple reason that, if you get the right tenants, you will basically be receiving payments on time month after month, your property will be well-maintained, your neighbors will be happy, and your property management will be stress-free.

Having the wrong tenants will get you into a whole mess of troubles, and you may find yourself paying the mortgage until you get rid of your tenant.

So it’s imperative, as a landlord, that you find the right people to occupy your property.  Here’s the checklist guide to screening for the best tenants.



Set the Expectations High and Learn to Say No

I’ve seen many times when a tenant comes to me with a laundry bag list of conditions;  “My credit scores are not high”, “I require a cosigner for the lease”, “Do you mind waiting before I get approved for Section 8?”.  Hearing this is more than enough to cause your stomach to cringe.   So what do you do?   Don’t put up with it.  Unless you tenant pool is slim, learn to say ‘No’ when you have to do more work to accommodate the tenant.   The one thing you must be careful in doing is declining for certain reasons  other than for poor references and financial capability.   When choosing tenants, there are many of housing laws that may come into play, and some are very significant.  For a housing prospective, each applicant belongs to a protected class, and there will people who will constantly bug you on how you accept and decline people.


Tips for Screening Tenants

Have a list of criteria every applicant must meet to be accepted.

These criteria should be tangible and should justify their eligibility to occupy your rental space, such as income three times the amount of the rent and or a credit score of 650 and above.  In addition, the tenant must never have been evicted or had any encounters with the law in the past.  There are no hard and fast rules in making your criteria, just make sure every item you put on your list meets the bounds of local, state, and federal laws.  Once you have your criteria, use them consistently for every applicant.

Have a formal application process and ask the prospective tenant to complete the whole application.

The application form should include the prospective tenant’s basic personal information, such as full name, current address, and social security number for every prospective tenant under 18 years of age.  Also, ask for their current and previous two landlords as well as current and previous two employers.   Inquire about the vehicle (make, model, and license number).  Ask for contacts of the closest kin so you can verify their references.   All these items are essential to understand who your prospective tenants are, his or her personality, attitude, what you may expect in the future with them as a tenant.

Charge for the application fee.

This is probably the biggest hurdle your applicant will have is paying the application fee.   Some landlords don’t charge this fee, but in actuality, an application fee for residential and commercial property is quite standard.  Usually the fee will range anywhere from $15 to $30.  In charging an application fee, it’s a good way to determine if your prospective tenants are really interested in the rental space.  If they can’t get over this hurdle, then they may or may not be a serious as they claim to be.   With the application fee,  you have to make sure the fee follows your local law.  Some states and cities allow application fees for rental properties, as long as they are reasonable.  Also, most states will let you keep the money even when you turn your applicants down.  And of course, the application itself must be completed, if not, then no reason to consider the applicant.

Get permission through a separate agency to get a credit report, and then do this every time.

Credit report is one of the most crucial things you need to examine thoroughly when screening tenants. Obviously, a credit report lets you determine the credit worthiness of your prospective tenants.  But then again, in today’s market, many folks are searching for rental spaces primarily because of foreclosures, and the chances of these people getting good credit report grade may be slim.


The two most important things you need to look at credit report to help you assess your applicants are the social security number and street address.   If the social security and street address don’t match, then there’s a good chance that applicant is falsifying his or her credit score.

Get permission to contact prospective tenants’ current and past landlords.

You should know that many prospective tenants may have left their previous rental without notifying their landlords of their intent to leave.  Do you think they’d treat you differently once you become their landlord?  Call their past landlord and ask them more about the tenant’s personality, attitude, and the ability to pay rent on time.

Get permission to get prospective tenant’s employer(s).

Before you get the number of your prospective tenantsemployer, make sure you have a piece of paper with you with questions you want to ask about the prospective tenant. These questions should not be open ended questions, rather direct questions to let the employer answer with concise facts and for you to get the right information you need to come up with the best decision.  For example, “Can you verify that this person makes X amount in one month?”.

Always call back the applicants you declined.

These applicants did their part on completing the application process and paying the application fee (considering you implemented the first few tips above this list), make sure you write or call them, informing them of your decision to decline their application.  Of course, you need to provide the reasons why you declined the prospective tenant, so just being honest about it helps.  It’s a tough and uncomfortable conversation to have, but if the applicant spent the time in applying, the least that could be done in return is notifying him or her of your decision.


In screening your tenants, you should always be objective. Develop a robust and foolproof criteria for choosing tenants, and always base your decisions on these criteria.

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