Rental Screening

Landlord’s arm extending to offer keys to a new tenant.

Property Management 101: 2023 Tenant Screening Checklist

Finding the right renters means asking the right questions during your tenant screening process. Tenant screenings are a way to delve into the tenant pool and find the best fit for your properties. Some property managers fear screening potential renters will scare them off, but if tenants are afraid of what will be uncovered, you don’t want them in your units. 

Renters spend almost $500 billion a year on rent and even though there are no signs of slowing this trajectory, it takes much more than willing tenants to be a successful property manager. Successful property management begins with the screening process.

Tenant screening is conducted in a variety of ways, and most property managers use more than one technique. Verifying income, checking references, and running a background check are all valuable tools landlords use to screen potential tenants. A tenant screening checklist is simply a list of all the tools you plan to use to vet your potential tenant. 

This guide explains the basics of a tenant screening checklist and how to put one together to help you find the perfect tenants. 

Checklist Criteria

Knowing the criteria each tenant needs to follow is imperative for a successful rental. Finding the right tenants is easier when you know what you’re looking for. It is illegal to use tenant screening criteria for discriminatory purposes – all your criteria must be considered fair to all parties, according to the Fair Housing Laws of the United States. Here are a few of the most valuable criteria property managers use to screen tenants. 

Income Verification

The tenant must make sufficient income to pay rent and still afford daily life expenses. You can ensure this happens by verifying their income with paystubs, bank statements, tax records, and employee letters. Just make sure the verification documents you receive are authentic and haven’t been altered.

Criminal Background Check

Checking into a tenant’s criminal background is essential. Most property managers aren’t too concerned with petty crimes or even more serious crimes that are decades old. They instead look for recent illegal activity and criminal charges related to what kind of tenants they might be. 

Credit Check

Checking into a prospective tenant’s credit history is a good way to tell if they pay their bills on time. It can also tell you if they have ever declared bankruptcy, had wage garnishments, or had any court rulings against their income. 

Talk to Previous Landlords

A quick chat with previous landlords can tell you a lot about what type of tenant you’re dealing with. Don’t be afraid to ask whatever you need to know. Most landlords are happy to relay their experiences with tenants, and you can find out if they were troublesome tenants or quiet peaceful people. 

Eviction Report

Obtaining an eviction report lets you know if the renter has ever been evicted from a property and why. It can also tell you the eviction address, landlord names, court rulings, and any outstanding money they may owe. 

All these criteria are necessary for a rental screening checklist – you can’t get a complete picture of the prospective tenant without one. The next invaluable step in the screening process is a face-to-face interview. 

Interview Questions

An in-person or even a telephone interview can help determine if the applicant fits your bill for tenancy. Asking the right questions is key. This is a great time to ask lifestyle questions that make a difference in your rental community. Check out these typical tenant screening interview questions.

1. Smoking

If you have a smoke-free property, you’ll want to ask if they smoke. This question is best asked in person so you can look for telltale signs and smells.

2. Pets

Pets are a touchy subject with renters, many of whom will do whatever it takes to move their pets in with them. If your property allows pets, be sure to ask about the number and type of pets the potential tenant has. 

3. Work Hours

Some people who work the night shift are noisy very early in the morning or vice versa. A good landlord must ensure that all tenants living near one another respect the same quiet times. 

4. Reason for the Move

It’s always a good idea to ask why the applicant is moving. They aren’t a good fit if they’re moving because their neighbor smoked and your building allows smoking, for example. 

5. Past Rent Issues

Ask the rental candidate if they have ever refused to pay rent or been in any situation with other tenants where rent was withheld for any reason. It’s one thing if there was a derelict landlord situation, but quite another if tenants simply made unusual and/or unreasonable demands. Both scenarios are something you want to know about.

You’ll have a better handle on the type of person you’re dealing with after you go through this tenant screening checklist. Your final task before conducting a complete tenant screening should be to ensure all your criteria are in line with the Fair Housing Laws.

The Fair Housing Laws and Tenant Screening 

What might seem like a normal conversation could be a fair housing violation that costs you thousands. There are a few things you must keep in mind to ensure your screening criteria adhere to the Fair Housing Laws.

  • Landlords may not discriminate against anyone of a protected class, including religion, race, age, sex, marital status, or disability.
  • All applicants must be held to the same standards.
  • Advertisements directed toward a specific protected class are not permitted.
  • Make sure you comply with state fair housing laws.

The screening process is a vital part of finding the best tenants that will ideally become a long-term, valued part of the community. It can seem daunting at first, but it gets easier as you continue to use your tenant screening checklist and become more accustomed to speaking with rental candidates. 

Getting Help with Screening Rental Candidates

It takes time to learn how to get the screening process right – a commodity property managers don’t have a lot of these days. RentSafe makes it simple. We are a digital service that helps landlords streamline tenant screening and allow renters to easily submit the requested documents. Contact the RentSafe team to see how our platform can help simplify your rental applicant screening processes.

renter screening questions

10 Renter Screening Questions You’ve Got to Ask

Last year, more than 20 percent of tenants in the US moved into an apartment larger than the one they were previously renting. With more people working from home, it’s an understandable reason to move. 

Do you wish there was a reliable way to find great tenants for your rental properties? Here are the best renter screening questions to ask prospective tenants.

1. Current Situation

Are you currently renting, and if so, how long have you lived there? 

A positive reference from their current landlord is good, but it’s better to get a reference from at least one former landlord. Their current one may be encouraging them to leave and may not give an honest reference. 

If it’s their first time renting on their own, ask for references from past roommates or another personal recommendation. If the tenant tends to move frequently, you will do this work again soon.

2. Reason For Moving

Why are you moving? When would you like to move into the new space?

This may reveal additional information about their current rental situation and indicate whether you want them as tenants. They may be moving for a new job or to move closer to a school. Another reason to move is to get a larger space or downsize to a smaller space

They might be moving because their rent increased. In that case, you might want to pay close attention to their finances and credit check. If they seem like they are in a hurry to move, you might want to get more information about their situation.

3. Employment Status

What is your current income?  What kind of work do you do? How long have you worked there?

A tenant with steady employment is preferable to a tenant who has just started a new job. Long-term employment indicates stability which is a good sign. If an applicant has only worked for their current employer for a short time, ask for past employment history.

When interviewing potential tenants, it’s reasonable to ask this question because you need to know that they can afford the monthly rent payments. You want a tenant with a monthly income that is three times your rent. Ask for proof of income in the form of a paystub or bank statement.

4. Past Rental History

Have you ever been evicted? Have you ever broken a lease? 

It’s important to ask questions about rental history. They may have had a poor experience with a landlord and were wrongfully evicted. Listen to their side of the story before you make a judgment.

If they’ve broken a lease in the past, ask them what caused it to happen. Sometimes a tenant and a landlord come to a mutual agreement and break the lease together.

5. People Involved

How many people will be living in the rental property? Are you willing to have background and credit checks performed for all adults who will live here? Do any of them smoke?

Establishing this from the beginning is essential, so you aren’t surprised by an endless stream of couch-surfers or extended family living in the spare room. More people means higher utility costs and wear and tear on your rental property.

When the tenant arrives, notice how many people they bring along. It’s common to bring along a friend to get their opinion of the unit. If they come with a group in tow, it may indicate how much activity will occur in your rental unit.

6. Parking For Vehicles

How many parking spaces do you need? How many vehicles do you own?

You want to understand what your tenant’s expectations are for vehicle storage. If you can only offer one parking space, they may be able to park on the street. If that’s inconvenient, it may be a decision point for them.

7. Ask About Pets

Do you have any pets? What kind of pets do you have, and how many?

After you discuss pets and tell them about your pet restrictions, they may realize the rental property isn’t the right one for them. If you allow pets, you could arrange to meet the pet as part of the screening process. 

Be sure to ask about smaller pets such as birds or fish. The moisture from large aquariums can damage your rental unit unless they have a dehumidifier. Rodents can chew baseboards, and birds are often messy, especially if they can fly freely in your space.

8. Rental Agreement

Are you willing to sign a one-year lease? Do you have tenant insurance?

At this point, you might want to provide a copy of the lease. Be sure to include the names of every person who will be living in your rental property. Ask for copies of their identification for your records.

If you allow pets, document the type and breed of the pet and ask for a pet deposit. Discuss your rules around subletting the property. Most lease agreements require the landlord’s written approval before a tenant can sublet.

Review any bylaws or rules if you are renting in a multi-unit building. Clearly outline your smoking policy in the suite and common areas. Include the financial or other penalties for breaking the building rules. 

9. Financial Situation

Have you filed for bankruptcy recently? 

Landlords prefer a  tenant with a good credit score. If someone has had financial difficulties, this is their opportunity to tell you about their situation. Ask if they can pay a deposit in advance. 

10. Are You a Partier?

Part of the tenant screening process includes catching your applicant off guard. Be observant and watch for clues in their body language.

Their answer to this unexpected question may surprise you. You can usually tell if someone is trying to hide information or fudge their answers. 

Renter Screening Questions

Instead of struggling to ask these renter screening questions, try the ultimate solution for property managers. You can create online rental applications, then see the results in our user-friendly dashboard. 

Contact RentSafe to see our powerful toolkit in action. We have the best solution to avoid a bad renter or tenant from the start.

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