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How to Screen Potential Tenants

When selecting tenants, having screening criteria is vital. Before we dive in, I need to make something clear: NEVER take the first person who wants to rent your unit without screening. Even if it takes 2 months to find the right person, always take the time to screen. Don't be lazy and decide to skip this step, I can't stress this enough. We have done this mistake in our early Landlord days thinking "Bah, they look like great people, I'm not worried." Just to realize down the road it was a big mistake!

Before you even start showing the property that is available to rent, I strongly recommend Pre-Screening. This means having a list of questions you copy paste from a Note in your phone when replying to interested messages from your Facebook Ad. This helps filter the numerous messages and keeps those that are serious and those most likely to qualify.

My list of questions included some of the following:

  • Why are you moving?

  • Who would be living with you?

  • Does anyone smoke?

  • Do you have pets?

  • Will you be able to provide references?

  • How long are you looking to rent for?

  • Can you supply your own appliances?

Some people don't bother to reply and I've even had some people that were insulted I asked these questions. Either way that's good, it means it's working and filtering out what you don't need. For those who politely answer all of the questions and agreed with our terms, made the list of those who may view the property.

Tip for scheduling showings: I would book them in 15 minute appointments during a certain timeframe. (For example: Sunday morning between 9 and noon I'd have someone booked every 15 minutes). I would confirm with them the day before and if they didn't reply or just cancelled, I would replace them with someone else. There is always someone that doesn't show up, maybe even a few won't show up on the Day of but that's Ok because you'll already be there and have someone else coming in just 15 minutes. (I even kept a list of names of those who never showed up because often they would reappear in my messages on the next unit I posted for rent).

Once we had done the showings, our actual screening criteria included:

  • Everyone over 18 must fill an application

  • Total household income is best if it corresponds to about 3 times the rent (this isn't ironclad but a good general rule of thumb. Don't forget that requesting co-signers can also be a good tool)

  • They must be able to provide proof of that income

  • References from landlords (previous and present) as well as from their current employer. Minimum of 2 references per person and they must all be positive.

  • Credit history must be clear of any eviction or unpaid judgments from previous landlords.

Now I'm not saying the list above will guarantee a flawless tenancy but since we started screening using this criteria we noticed a big difference. Things are generally smoother.

As for credit checks, we had done a lot of back and fourth with the idea of doing credit checks for a long time. In the end we decided to do them mostly because we wanted to make sure there was no bad history of evictions, but we simply don't believe that a bad credit score is your deciding factor. We have had tenants with bad scores in the past, yet we never had any issues with them because despite what the credit score says, most tenants will still prioritize rent payments over other payments. In my opinion, if they have no history of evictions or unpaid judgments from previous landlords on their records, then the rest is a judgement call.

I do think however that the biggest component of a good application is the quality of the references. You can predict a lot about how your tenancy is going to be with this tenant just by having a short conversation on the phone with their present (or previous) landlord and their employer. If it's all sincere praise, (you can usually tell when it's sincere) then perhaps this is your deciding factor? If the person on the other end of the line however sounds like a rehearsed politician, (you know the type: everything they're saying basically means nothing, they're not being negative but they're not being positive either), then from experience I've found this is the person's way of screaming "READ BETWEEN THE LINES AND SAVE YOURSELF". The goal is to be having the first type of conversation I described. If you want to know which questions to ask when calling for references, contact me via Instagram and I can guide you.

Finally, and hopefully this goes without saying but you should never deny someone based on race, religious background, sexual orientation or any other form of discrimination. Treat everyone equally! You're just looking to find that simple tenant who will respect the home and yourself as a Landlord, who will not miss a payment and not cause any unnecessary drama.

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