Tenant Screening Tips For Beginning Landlords

Proper tenant screening is an art that requires years of experience. If you're a beginning landlord seeking ways to find the perfect tenants, the following tips can help.  

Be Clear Upfront

Tell tenants up front--before they even see your property--which standards they must meet in order to be approved for a tenancy. Telling potential applicants in your advertisements which factors will disclude them from consideration will encourage applicants to self-screen. The qualifications you present don't need to be limited to simple financial requirements. Your rental property advertisement can list everything that qualifies a tenant for acceptance.

  • Income requirements. If your rental property has solidly set income requirements, tell potential tenants this information in the advertisement or when they call.
  • Co-signer requirements. Many younger renters who have never had a rental property in the past may ask to have a parent co-sign for the apartment. If your property will not accept these types of renters, be clear about that in the advertisement.
  • Reference check. If you require a specific type of reference--such as a reference from a previous landlord--telling them in the advertisement will give them time to speak with their references and write down the contact information before meeting with you.

Minimize Your Risk

Minimize your risk by checking for specific warning signs that a tenant will break the lease, turn out to be a bad tenant or stop paying rent.

  • Low credit scores. Low credit scores are indicative that an applicant will make irresponsible financial decisions. As a landlord, you get to decide what qualifies as a low credit score. However, it's important to remember that your credit score qualifications must stay the same between applicants from protected classes and the other applicants.
  • Eviction history. Tenants who have a history of eviction may be riskier potential tenants than those who have no history of eviction.
  • Criminal background. Applicants with a criminal background may make poor tenants, depending on what type of crimes caused them to be arrested. Before using criminal history as a reason to deny a tenant, consider the crimes themselves. For example, applicants arrested for political protest may make better tenants than applicants who were arrested for violent crimes.

Consult with an Attorney

The process of screening potential tenants can be very rewarding once you've perfected your approach. A satisfactory screening process can help ensure that you'll pick the right tenants for your apartment or rental home. However, the law dictates that tenant applicants have certain rights. Any methods of screening that could qualify as discrimination could backfire and cost you a great deal of money. In these first years of screening tenants, consult with a qualified real estate attorney (such as one from Souders Law Group) to ensure that you understand what type of screening is and isn't allowed.