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A Quick and Easy Guide to Tenant Screening

For property owners and managers, there’s nothing worse than a problem tenant.  Whether it’s dealing with complaints from neighbors, or having to chase down rent checks, or having to dig into your pockets for extra maintenance, cleaning, and repairs, having just one difficult tenant on your property can turn a lucrative real estate investment into a major headache. Here are some helpful tips for attracting consistent, quality tenants.


Screen Your Tenants – It can cost a little extra time and money, but a good screening process is your number-one line of defense against unreliable tenants. From credit checks to criminal background checks, the more thorough you are, the less likely you’ll be to run into any costly surprises later on.


Be Up-Front About Your Screening Process – One way to make the screening process even more effective is to make it clear from the get-go. When you post your listing, make it clear that there will be a full screening process including credit checks and background checks. This will likely deter less reliable tenants before they even pick up the phone to inquire about your property.


Be Mindful of Discrimination Laws - The Federal Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Family status
  • Disability


And many states have additional protections for marital status and sexual orientation. So be careful not to ask any questions related to any of these topics. Furthermore, while you are legally allowed to ask a potential tenant if they’ve ever been convicted of any crimes, you cannot ask them if they’ve simply been arrested in the past. And in many states, including California, it is still illegal to discriminate against someone who has been convicted of a crime, except for in a few certain cases, such as illegal drug convictions or violent offenses that might put other tenants at risk.


Be Precise About Your Financial Requirements – The clearer you are about what you’re looking for, the more likely you’ll be to find it. Tenants are often unsure about how much they can afford, so setting a clear minimum requirement (e.g. “Must make 3 times the monthly rent to qualify”) is a great way to weed out tenants that might have trouble making rent on time.


Ask for References – Getting a few references from previous landlords is a great barometer for how your prospective tenant might behave in your property. If their previous landlords report repeated incidents such as noise complaints, police visits, or evictions, then you might want to think twice about renting to them.


Hire a Property Management Company – Many property managers understandably don’t have the time to be as meticulous as they’d like, which can lead to cutting corners during the tenant screening process. This is where you put yourself and your property at risk. So, when in doubt, get an experienced professional to help you out. A good property management company already knows the laws and best practices for locating a steady flow of high-quality tenants. And they can handle all of the tedious details, from running criminal background checks, to combing through credit reports, to verifying employment history and checking references, which can be a life-saver for busy property owners.

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