Back in 2017, the average landlord only got two applicants for a vacant rental, making it relatively easy to screen people and choose a new tenant.
With the current tight rental market, you’re likely to get twice as many in the first hour after your listing goes live. The competitive house-buying market has spilled over to create a more competitive rental market as well, particularly when rents go up and people have to move to more affordable digs.
A tenant evaluation checklist helps you manage the tide of applicants and whittle down the list to the best one for you and your property. While you might have a few unique aspects to your rental, most landlords can work from a basic list.
Let’s take a look at what you should check off when doing tenant screening.
Decide What You’re Looking For
Before you list your vacancy, start by establishing your specific tenant requirements. Some of these will allow prospective renters to self-filter because they don’t meet the minimum standards. Others give you a set of guidelines to help you filter out non-starters yourself.
These should be objective criteria such as minimum credit score or income requirements. Lifestyle factors like pets or smoking can also weed out unsuitable candidates. The more information you provide upfront, the easier it is for the right renter to find you.
Keep in mind that whatever you set at this point, you should be consistent in applying the standard across all applicants.
Tenant Screening Checklist
What should go on your checklist? The basics should help you get information about the applicant’s current situation as well as details on their history. Some of your to-do items will be to collect the information while others will be about verifying it.
The average rent for a one-bedroom has gone up by more than 17 percent in the last two years, which has led many to look for new places to live. As a result, you definitely want to be making sure any new tenants can afford to live in your property.
This part of your checklist should get you information about
- Current employment
- Income level
- Current living situation
- Reason for moving
Some of that can be part of the application, but you can also develop a list of pre-screening questions to use in a phone interview or during a showing of the property.
Given the competition for rentals, it’s wise to ensure every interested person fills out an application form and pays the fee. Depending on your location, the fee might be limited to the cost of running background checks.
While past performance might not be a good indicator on Wall Street, it can help you screen renters. Some details will come up in a credit or background check, but many things might be missed if you don’t pursue the information. This part of your checklist is about finding a great tenant, not just one who meets the minimums.
With rental history, you’re looking for information on the following:
- Positive rent payment history
- Past evictions
- Lease violations
- General issues like noise complaints or property damage
Your best source for these is going to be past landlords if you can connect with them. Ask applicants for references and require at least one to be a previous landlord. When you talk to them, ask questions such as
- Why did they leave
- Would you rent to them again
- How long were they there
- Did you have any complaints
- Were they consistent with rent
- Did you ever start eviction proceedings
In particular, pay attention to why the landlord would or would not rent to the person again. This is where you will find the most honest and subjective impressions that go far beyond what you’ll find in a check.
The formal legal checks on your list should go far beyond a basic background check. You want to be confirming all the information they provided on the application, such as whether they’re really employed and how much they make.
Because not everything shows up on every report, you’ll want to look at running four different kinds of checks. These include:
- Credit check
- Background check
- Criminal background check
- Eviction check
Evictions might show up in a credit check or on the background report, but you might have to go digging for them. This is especially true when tenants are served notice but manage to remedy the issue before the eviction hearing or judgment.
It’s worth noting as well that while you can run all these checks, some locales have begun restricting the use of the information in making leasing decisions. For example, you might be able to run a criminal background check but not be allowed to consider a past conviction in making your decision about that applicant.
Landlord Tips For Screening
Whatever pieces of information you put on your checklist, it’s important to avoid some common issues that can complicate your rental business.
The most important tip is to be consistent with your screening. That means requiring the application from everyone and running the same checks on each applicant. Your questions and interview routine should also be the same each time.
Arm Yourself With a Tenant Evaluation Checklist
For any landlord, the first step to reaching good steady cash flow is to have quality tenants in your property. A thorough tenant evaluation checklist saves you time and ensures you check every piece of information needed to properly assess a potential tenant. It’ll also keep you on the right side of the fair housing laws by adding consistency to your process.
Need a better way to screen tenants for your rental property? Contact us to learn more about our user-friendly online tenant screening services and application process.