Six Ways to Save Time When Screening Tenants

Screening tenants can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of being a landlord. Checking references, running background checks and collecting rental applications from multiple interested parties can easily eat up a weekend. To streamline the screening process, consider trying a few of these tips.

1. Ask a few informal questions before the initial meeting

To eliminate tenants who don't fit the basic rental requirements, landlords should have a basic list of questions they ask before agreeing to show the property. These questions should include the number of pets and people who will live in the rental, their requested occupancy date and their desired lease length.

Landlords should also make sure that the tenants understand the monthly rental amount, required deposit and any deal breakers, such as smokers who want to rent a nonsmoking property. Tenants who want to rent a house that is too small for their family, who can't afford the security deposit, or who have other obvious disqualifying factors can be ruled out during that first phone call.

2. Have an online rental application

With online cloud storage available from many companies, landlords should have their complete rental application accessible online. Then, if prospective tenants are interested in the property, they can download and complete the application immediately. Completing an application online also ensures a typed application, not a handwritten form that is difficult to decipher. Depending on the type of cloud storage used, the applicants can also upload the completed application and supporting documents without going to the post office.

3. Create an orderly screening process

In order to save time, landlords should conduct an online background check that includes criminal, civil and credit history before continuing the application process. Then, the landlord should verify the financial information, such as length of employment and salary. If any red flags pop up at any stage during this process, the application should not be processed further, and a tenant rejection letter should be sent. Reference calls, which take the largest amount of time, should be saved for last.

4. Use technology to screen tenants

An online tenant screening service allows landlords to quickly see a prospective tenant's credit history, criminal records, employment history, and past addresses. Landlords can also check to ensure there is no history of foreclosures, bankruptcies or evictions. Rather than trying to collect this information from several disparate sources, a good screening service can help a property owner quickly evaluate a tenant's suitability.

5. Thoroughly check references.

If a tenant looks good on paper, many landlords are tempted to skip a reference check or only a make a few brief, perfunctory phone calls. However, a reference check is a great way to identify deadbeat tenants and possibly prevent a lengthy and expensive eviction. The rental application should also request at least two former landlord references. It's more likely that a prior, not current landlord, will be candid during a reference check.

To keep the process manageable, landlords should have a form with a list of questions for each reference. When talking to former landlords, prospective landlords should probe beyond basic financial questions like timely rent payments. They should also ask about the condition of the property after it was vacated, if the entire security deposit was returned, and if the landlord would rent to that tenant again.

6. Consider using professionally prepared documents.

Preparing a rental application, background check release, reference questionnaire, and other necessary documents requires hours of time. Also, landlords who create their own documents must be highly knowledgeable about the local, state and federal laws that govern the screening process. Otherwise, they risk violating the law and a possible lawsuit for using discriminatory information to make a rental decision.  Instead of spending hours researching and compiling a custom document, look for a company that sells documents tailored to specific states.


Posted on Dec 01, 2014


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