You’ve got a great rental property. You’ve taken some eye-catching photos and carefully prepared the space. You’ve analyzed the local market and set an appropriate rental price. You’ve advertised a rental listing and now you have tenants lining up to tour the property. But what’s the next step? How do you screen tenants from among the pool of applicants?
In order to properly screen tenants, it is useful to consider who the ideal candidate might be. For example, an ideal tenant will have a history without evictions, enough income to support the cost of the rental, and be able to provide positive references. However, even great candidates may not be perfect. You may need to weigh different pros and cons for individual tenants to mitigate your risk. Once the hypothetical ideal candidate is identified, consider ranking each of the important attributes in order of priority or assigning weights to each category.
For example, background checks and credit checks may help screen tenants by revealing past evictions and an overview of financial risk respectively. However, you’ll need to set the criteria for evaluating the results of the checks. For example, what is a good credit score? And is a credit score more important than the results of the background check?
Are there some attributes that are non-negotiable? It’s important to define your deal breakers. You might automatically disqualify prospective tenants who have below a certain credit score even if their personal references are excellent. Some additional considerations may be whether or not the tenant owns pets, how long the tenant intends to stay, and why the tenant is leaving his or her past place.
While there are lots of questions that landlords are allowed to ask prospective tenants to assist in screening, there are some questions that must be avoided. In order to prevent discrimination in housing, there are laws in place regarding tenant screening. Before screening prospective tenants you should know what not to ask.
Even though you may feel you are making polite conversation or getting to know an applicant, some personal questions can be interpreted by the tenant as discriminatory. For example, you may intend to spark a friendly conversation by asking “Where are you from?” but questions about national origin must be avoided. Even offhand questions like, “Do you have kids?” or “Are you married?” can lead to murky waters. A tenant may interpret your questions as discriminatory towards familial status.
Whatever system you design for tenant screening, it is important to apply the same criteria to all applicants. Not only will you benefit from a consistent system, but it will keep you out of legal trouble. Applying more relaxed screening standards to certain individuals opens landlords up to claims of discrimination. If you are concerned about designing your own screening system, consider utilizing a screening service. One of the benefits of a professional service is greater protection from legal liability.