Property Management 101: 2023 Tenant Screening Checklist

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

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.

Devin Henry
Devin Henry
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