Tenant Screening: Three Tips for Finding Better Renters
July 17, 2013
By Tracey March
Tenants who have poor credit or an otherwise bad rental history often seek out the smaller landlords, in the hopes that these rental owners won’t delve too deeply into their sordid details. Experienced rental owners understand that finding good tenants is critical to their success, which is why they often hire property management companies or screening companies to help them find reliable and considerate renters. If you do your own tenant screening, here are three tips to help you identify the pernicious tenants who will try to slide in under your radar:
1. Check the rental application
Typically we think checking the application means following up later on references and verifying credit report information – and those are important, so do them. But here we mean check the rental application as soon as the applicant gives it to you.
Focus on three things:
- Look for empty spaces that should have been filled out. For example, make sure there is a birth date and social security number, or you won’t be able to run a credit report.
- Look for language that indicates the application was not properly filled out, such as “don’t remember” under the previous landlord’s name.
- Make sure the responses are legible.
If an application isn’t filled out correctly, completely, or legibly, hand it back and let the rental applicant know you can’t process it until it is.
2. Verify the application information.
Do a “Social Search” on the applicant’s social security number using a tenant screening service such as Transunion’s MySmartMove web-based service. Results will show you addresses associated with a social security number, so it’s a great way of verifying your applicant’s rental history. In addition, sometimes social searches reveal that more than one person is using the same social security number – a sign that the applicant is either the victim or perpetrator of an identity theft.
Also, cross-reference the applicant’s prior addresses with county tax records and you’ll be able to find the landlord’s name and address so you can verify that the landlord contact information given to you is correct. If the prior addresses were for apartment buildings, look them up in the phone book or do an Internet search to verify the property manager’s phone number.
3. Meet and get a completed application and picture ID from all adults planning to live in the rental property.
Insist on actually meeting all adults who plan to live in your rental home. You need to know who you are renting to and that your renters are who they say they are. Make an exception for spouses deployed in the military. In that case, get evidence of the spouse’s military service.
Be sure to get copies of picture identification, which typically will be a driver’s license. With the license you can verify the applicant is the person in the picture, and you can verify the address.
One final note: when it comes to tenant screening, always comply with federal and state fair housing laws.
Tenant screening is one of the most important things you do as a landlord. Having good tenants means rental income and a well-maintained rental property. Do you have any tips or insights about tenant screening?