Savvy Screening

Tips for finding a great tenant for your rental property

A good tenant can mean the difference between nail-biting anxiety and a good night’s sleep. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a lease agreement with someone who trashes your property or whose payments are consistently late.

It’s important to remember that the landlord/tenant relationship is about business. Although you may be hoping to find tenants you “hit it off” with, you could be missing valuable cues if you jump into friendly chitchat too soon. Your goal is to find a good tenant, and that requires asking tough questions and paying close attention to the answers.  The screening process begins from the very first point of contact with potential tenants, so keep it friendly but remember that being liked isn’t your goal here.

Start with the phone.

Before you place your ad, make a list of pre-screening questions to ask once the calls start coming in. Use the phone to start the process of elimination before you commit to showing the place or meeting someone in person.

Ask the right questions.

Once the calls start coming in, write down each prospective tenant’s answers to the following questions:

–       Why are you moving?

–       When are you planning to move in?

–       How many people will be moving in with you?

–       What is your monthly income?

–       Will you be able to provide references from former landlords and employees?

–       Are you willing to pay the screening fee and give consent for a credit check and a background check?

–       Will you have the first month’s rent and the security deposit prior to moving in?

Make a note of any iffy answers or blame-game excuses regarding former landlords. Thank each person for their call and invite them to submit an application. It’s important not make any promises at this point, but feel free to write a big fat NO on your notes.

Read applications carefully.

Your application should include employment and rental history as well as references. If you took great notes during the phone calls, you should be able to catch any inconsistencies. Let these guide you in your next round of eliminations. Also, take note of patterns. If the applicant has moved around a lot or spent long periods unemployed, it could be a red flag.  Or there may be a good explanation. Make more notes on the application to remind yourself to ask about specifics in case you decide to move this potential tenant on to the next round.

Show the property.

Showing the property isn’t just about giving prospective tenants the lay of the land. It’s also about meeting in person and providing yourself with another opportunity to continue the screening process. Do they show up on time? How are their mannerisms? Have they brought the screening fee? Do they start complaining about the property right away? This is also a good time to ask the questions about the application. Schedule enough time between showings to make more notes once each person has left.

Do your research.

Run background and credit checks. Verify employment. Call references and talk to them.

Follow the Fair Housing Rules.

Read up to make sure you aren’t making tenant decisions based on race, gender, sex, religion, disability, or family status.

Trust your gut.

If you’ve followed all of the above tips to weed out the obvious No’s, you should be able to trust that whoever’s left has the integrity you’re looking for in a tenant.  So, at this point, with all the key boxes checked, it’s ok to make an intuitive decision based on whose vibe works for you, who feels right, or who you “hit it off” with.

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Elizabeth Salaam
Along with her work as Senior Contributing Writer for Girl's Guide, Elizabeth Salaam writes for the San Diego Reader. Her work has also been published in Elle Magazine. | Most inspired by: Contradictions. | Favorite room in my home: The Master suite. The windows have views for days! | Best design idea I may never do: Adorn my enclosed toilet room with library book wallpaper and a chandelier. | Will never: Bungee jump. | Have always been: Rebellious. | Dying to: Live in a Paris flat with herringbone wood floors.
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