When you are working through applicants that are interested in renting your property from you there are some things that you should never (under any circumstances) neglect. One of those things would be a tenant screening. Making sure that you are accepting the best tenant possible will also help to ease you into a better relationship. A basic tenant screening will provide a credit and criminal check for you and these two things can, potentially, save you a good deal of trouble in the future.
Letting your applicant know (and having them provide payment for an application fee) is a great way to work your way through less-than-promising applicants. If a person has particularly bad credit or a length criminal history, they likely will not agree to a tenant screening to begin with. This will save both of you time if you make your requirements known up front. Other requirements that you should probably mention before taking their money for a screening fee are the pet policies, your smoking policies, and any other policies that you have in place. Also check to make sure that the move-in date that you have in mind and that they do lines up. There's no reason for them to spend the money or for you to waste your time if they are not a good match from the beginning of the process. Even so, make sure that you don't pick and choose who you offer to take the next step for. If they want to have their screening run, you'll need to go ahead and take that next step with them. You don't want to be seen as discriminatory against an applicant.
Credit history is run from a person's Social Security Number within the United States. It's actually illegal to run a credit check on someone without their permission, so you'll need to be upfront with them on this. Receiving a signed authorization form is a fairly regular practice, but some tenant screening sites (such as LandlordStation) are moving to an easier approach that includes direct authorization from the applicant and online verification of their identity. Either way, permission must be given to provide the landlord with the credit check.
A criminal check does not require permission to run, as most criminal history is considered public record. While there are some nation-wide criminal databases (such as the sex offender database), there is no overall, central database of criminal history. Counties are likely to keep the information in different ways, and some states and counties have stricter privacy laws than others, limiting the information that is available. Criminal reports cannot be strictly run on a SSN for the simple reason that not everyone who commits a crime will have a social security number.
Make sure to do a thorough credit and criminal check (as well as evictions) before accepting an applicant. You should never allow a person to move into the home before this is complete.
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