10 Points to Consider When Screening Prospective Tenants

Thoroughly screening prospective tenants is the best way to avoid problems with future renters. Pleasant and timely tenants ensure that the property is taken care of, and that rent is paid consistently each month. To increase the chance of renting to thoughtful, trouble-free tenants, check off these ten items.

1. Credit Report

Landlords should always obtain their own copy of a tenant's credit report as part of the screening process after receiving permission from the applicant. A credit report provided by the applicant could be inaccurate. In most states, landlords can charge a small application fee that covers the costs of screening tenants. Some states, like Wisconsin, prohibit landlords from charging a fee if the tenant can provide a recent copy of a credit report.

2. Eviction Record

Evictions are not listed on credit reports, although a collection account for unpaid rent or damages may be listed. A civil judgment may also be listed if the prospective tenant was sued by a prior landlord. However, if the landlord did not seek financial compensation after an eviction, the only way to find out this information is to conduct an eviction search as part of the tenant screening process.

3. Criminal Record

A criminal records check should be included during the tenant screening process, but landlords may not be able to use some information to automatically deny an application. Some states only allow landlords to reject? tenants who have convictions that ?relate to housing. Federal law also states that landlords cannot deny tenants' applications if their only felony convictions are for drug use. According to federal law, landlords can ?reject tenants who are convicted of drug possession or sale?, who are still using drugs, or for any other legal reason outside of their past drug addiction.

4. Employment History and Income

Employment history should be listed on the rental application, but landlords should also verify this information. They can call the employer directly if the tenant gives permission, or they can run an employment background check. If other sources of income are listed on the application, a landlord should ask for a means of verification. States such as California prohibit discrimination based on a tenant's source of income.

5. Prior Landlord's Reference

Some landlords make the mistake of only talking to a current landlord. A prior landlord is more likely to give accurate information and can also answer questions about the condition of the rental after the tenant vacated. Both landlords should verify occupancy dates, rental amounts, and the timeliness of rent.

6. Pets

It's not enough to know the size and species of a prospective tenant's pet. Landlords should also ask for permission to contact the tenant's veterinarian to make sure the pet is fully vaccinated, verify its breed, and ask about any behavioral issues. A landlord's insurance policy may limit breed types and weight. Of course, service animals are legally exempt from any pet policy.

7. Past Address History

Asking for a list of past addresses can give landlords valuable insights into a prospective tenants' stability. If applicants move often or have rental gaps, landlords should ask about the circumstances of each move. Unexplained gaps could uncover sources of potential rental issues.

8. Number of Tenants

Overcrowding can lead to noise complaints and excessive wear and tear on a property. Landlords can limit the amount of tenants in each rental, as long as their limits follow state and federal law. Federal law states that landlords cannot limit the occupancy rate to less than two people for each bedroom.

9. Smoking and Marijuana Use

Smoking inside of a house can lead to burn marks and unpleasant odors. Landlords can refuse to rent to smokers because they are not a protected class. Landlords renting in states that have legalized marijuana can also ban smoking pot. However, medical marijuana use may be protected by state law.

10. Intended Rental Length

Screening a tenant thoroughly is a time consuming process, so many landlords prefer long term tenants. Landlords can ask about a tenant's future plans to gauge the chances of them renting the property for several years. Landlords can also agree to longer leases to secure desirable tenants. However, signing a longer lease? eliminates rent increases and other changes. R?esidential leases longer than two years may not be valid in some states.

POSTED December 08 2014 10:11 AM

Tenant Screening

Comprehensive credit & criminal screening.
Get access to bankruptcies, employment history, medical records, past addresses, evictions and more.

View Pricing & Get Started

Legal Forms

State-specific legal forms.
Lease agreements, rental applications, lease termination, eviction forms and much more.

Browse Our Legal Forms

Membership Pricing

Our paid membership plans now include free tenant screenings! Greater access to all of our features and the membership pays for itself!

View Pricing & Get Started

Landlord Tenant Laws
top 100 landlords