Tips For Writing Your Rental Criteria for Screening

a landlord signing a document

Owning a rental property is an excellent move for your future because the home should provide a decent return for years if you take care of it. Part of this investment involves keeping good renters who will pay on time and won’t damage the property.

Finding these ideal tenants can be a challenge, but writing rental criteria before you begin gives you a head start on the process by clearly defining your perfect applicant and protecting you from potential legal issues. This guide will take you through the importance of creating screening criteria and provide tips on what to include in the document.

The Importance of Developing Rental Criteria for Screening

One of the main benefits of listing rental criteria for screening is to create a tangible judging system for potential tenants so you don’t find yourself basing your decision on a gut feeling. It’s necessary to go beyond instinct and put together a list that is fair to everyone who wants to rent from you.

This system must ensure that your screening process is transparent and provide you with written proof that you aren’t discriminating against applicants based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or family status. Having your entire criteria for selecting a renter in the open can save you from fines if someone accuses you of violating the Fair Housing Act. instinct and put together a list that is fair to everyone who wants to rent from you.

Things to Consider When Developing Your Criteria

a checklist being checked of with a red marker

Putting your exact criteria together is challenging, because you need to balance protecting yourself against ensuring you aren’t violating any laws. Carefully weighing a few different aspects makes it less likely you’ll run into problems in the future. Here are some ideas to consider:

Fair-Housing Laws

Fair-housing laws are in place to ensure landlords don’t discriminate against potential tenants, and the Federal Housing Administration makes it straightforward for rejected applicants to file a complaint. A first-time fine could run you $16,000, and subsequent penalties include multipliers that could leave you with close to $65,000 to pay off, not including legal fees. There are seven protected classes in the Fair Housing Act – race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, family status, and disability – so you can’t show preference based on those aspects.

Your Ideal Tenant

It’s also a good idea to develop a clear picture of your perfect tenant that doesn’t discriminate against the protected classes. Your rental criteria include attributes your ideal tenant would possess, and they would form the basis of an outline for your screening criteria. Coming up with a list of potential warning signs that a tenant won’t work out is also advisable before you begin.

Other Goals

Determine what your goals are for your rental property. Do you want a long-term renter who will stay with you for years, or would you rather offer a short-term lease that you can get out of in a few months, if necessary? Only you know the goals you have for the home, so write them out and use them as an additional source when finding a tenant.

Your Advertisement

The ad you put up when seeking tenants will go a long way toward reaching your ideal tenant, and you should use it as a method of weeding out those who won’t fit your criteria. Include information on smoking indoors, pets, the number of people accepted in the rental, renter’s insurance, and late fees to set clear guidelines before an applicant even contacts you about the property. You’ll also want to include these terms in your lease to provide additional protections for yourself.

Information on the Property

It’s essential to include information on the specific property with your rental screening criteria, including the address and your name. Providing these initial details ensures there’s no mistaking which property the requirements are for and can help prevent legal problems in the future. This step is particularly vital if you have multiple properties for which you’ll be using the same or similar criteria.

Presenting the Criteria to Applicants

You’ll want to determine whether you’ll provide each applicant with a copy of your rental screening criteria or not. The benefit is that it clearly shows what you’re looking for, and it could chase off unqualified individuals while providing clear protection against complaints. The downside is that it could also scare off qualified applicants in the process.

Have a Solid Screening Process

Juggling numerous applications is a constant challenge for many landlords, and it can be tempting to cut corners to get units filled. That is a pathway to trouble, though, for some of the reasons listed above. It’s crucial to have an effective and efficient process or tech solution that is responsive to management, transparent to applicants, and user-friendly for all concerned.

Being a landlord isn’t easy, because there’s a lot to consider when screening, even once you have tenants in place. Knowing your legal responsibilities and having a clear picture of your goals can streamline the process and attract the best rental candidates.

6 Items to Include in Your Rental Criteria for Screening

Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities is only part of the rental criteria, because you must also figure out the exact attributes you want to screen. The good news is that there are some common items that most of these documents include, and they can provide a clear starting point.

1. Credit History

You’ll likely conduct a credit check on any applicant you’re seriously considering so you can ensure they have a history of making payments on time. You might also determine a minimum credit score that you’ll accept from an applicant to help narrow your search. The credit score you go with as your cutoff is up to you, but it’s wise to choose a number that’s at least in the “good” range, which begins at 670.

2. Background Check

The safety of your property should be a top concern, so it’s advisable to perform a background and criminal record check before accepting an applicant. You’ll want to complete this at both the state and federal levels, paying particular attention to felonies that could put your property at risk. Keep in mind that you can’t reject an applicant based purely on the existence of a criminal record, because it could result in a discrimination complaint in some situations.

3. Past Evictions

The past is an excellent predictor of the future, and applicants with evictions on their record are far more likely to repeat this behavior. Checking to see if a prospective tenant has been evicted from a previous residence is a good step and might also cause you to dig a little deeper into the applicant’s history. Find out why the applicant was evicted, because sometimes there is a good reason.

4. Employment History

Stable employment indicates the applicant has a steady income, which is essential when choosing a renter. Having a long-term job usually means the renter’s income won’t fluctuate greatly during tenancy, making it more likely you’ll receive rent payments on time every month. Those who hold employment at a single location for years are also generally reliable because their employer hasn’t found a reason to let them go.

5. Current Income

Making sure your tenant is earning enough money to pay rent every month is crucial. Your rental screening criteria might include looking into how much the applicant makes monthly, which can indicate whether they can handle other bills and any emergencies that arise beyond the rental amount. It’s usually recommended that the renter makes about three times what you’re charging for rent, because that provides enough income to handle the unexpected.

6. Reference Checks

Positive references from past landlords, employers, and people from the applicant’s personal life should be part of the screening process. Speaking with a landlord provides insight on whether the applicant damaged the property or paid rent on time, while an employer can confirm the individual’s work history. Keep in mind that some applicants might come up with fake references, so practice due diligence when speaking with these people.

It’s usually possible to deny an applicant who doesn’t meet your screening criteria, although there are sometimes legal exceptions that you’ll want to consider. Staying up to date on fair-housing laws and avoiding discrimination based on the protected groups makes it likely that your tenant screening criteria will protect you from potential fines after rejecting an applicant.

Get Help With Tenant Screening

Rental criteria are a key tool, but there is much more to creating a screening process that will uncover different aspects of an applicant’s past and present. Landlords who are considering multiple applicants at any given time might find it all overwhelming, particularly when handling every step manually.

Having a reliable, all-in-one method of checking an applicant’s background, rental history, employment, and credit score can make your life easier by ensuring you don’t have to check each detail of the tenant’s background separately. Rent Safe is just this type of service, providing faster results and helping landlords focus on other parts of renting their property.

Our online tenant screening platform saves time and provides peace of mind for landlords. This innovative software ensures your tenant meets your requirements while offering complete transparency throughout the process. Be sure to contact us today with any questions you have about transforming your screening process.

Devin Henry
Devin Henry
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