It’s easy to give in to the temptation to skip a step or two in the tenant screening process when you feel rushed to get a tenant moved in, but this can often cause more issues down the line than it’s worth. With the multiple layers of screening available, it’s not too difficult to help ensure that the most qualified candidates end up signing the lease and moving in. Here are some steps to live by when it comes to finding the right person to rent your property:
1. Get proof of identity and meet tenants personally
While we might like to imagine a world wherein everyone is exactly who they claim to be, it’s unfortunately just not the reality of life. Requiring accurate and current identification from tenants and taking the time to meet them personally to verify their identity can save serious headaches. Make sure everyone on the application matches up with their ID.
2. Pay attention to your gut feelings
Sometimes, even the best checks and screening processes can be beaten by someone determined to do so, so it’s important to pay attention your gut when meeting prospective tenants. Don’t discount the details either – did the applicant arrive on time, are they appropriately dressed, and do they maintain eye contact? If you get the feeling that someone isn’t being truthful, be sure to dig deep into the background and credit checks to make sure you are getting real information.
3. Do some level of tenant screening
While it might not be necessary to commit to a full-blown background check, it’s a good idea to at least do some research based on your prospective tenant’s application. Get the contact information of previous landlords, and go beyond what has been reported to directly talk to them if possible. Key items to ask about include a history of paying rent late, especially if it’s more than a very rare event. You can ask for character references, but these aren’t always the most trustworthy, so it’s best to stick to facts and less-biased opinions.
4. Make sure you protect yourself
Rental applications should include guidelines for the prospective tenant regarding just how you will be using their personal information. You need permission to run a credit and background check, for example. Explain the selection process, and don’t exclude pertinent information. Throughout the screening process, ensure that you are offering written explanations of all paperwork and things like income requirements and residence history.
5. Understand the laws
Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act and how it relates to your tenant/landlord relationship. Strictly adhering to the ethical guidelines will save you from a potential lawsuit because of an oversight or lack of knowledge about what the laws are. Remember that if you alter the terms of a lease or ask some applicants to provide more information than others, you are opening yourself up to liability. To deal with situations where you might feel extra scrutiny is required, it’s best to raise the level for everyone.
6. Tighten up tenant conduct rules
You can save yourself a lot of hassle by laying some things out up front. Not only do you and the tenants have a reasonable expectation of what’s required from them, you also can explain your responsibilities. This becomes an easy reference tool for communicating concerns or explaining the reasoning behind actions. It also gives you a tool to utilize, should it become necessary to evict. The rule of thumb that is most important to remember is that when everything is upfront, there is less room for confusion and disagreement.
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