Ten Tips for Screening Potential Tenants of Your Rental Property

As a landlord, having the right tenants makes all the difference. There are many warning signs of problem tenants, and some may not be immediately apparent. Repeat offenders are used to getting by landlords, and you can't always rely on gut instinct or your first impression when dealing with a potential tenant.

There are specific steps you can take to avoid terrible tenants. Here are 10 recommendations that landlords can follow to weed out possible problem tenants ahead of time.

1. Make the prospective tenant fill out a rental application. The first step is composing a written rental application. A completed rental application will give you the relevant information you need to make a decision to rent the property. See a sample Residential Rental Application.

2. Follow the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The best way to make sure you do not discriminate against potential renters is to follow the FHA. This act is in place to ensure that landlords are not denying someone the ability to rent property based on race, religion, or similar reasons. To avoid claims of discrimination, adhere to the FHA's code of ethics for landlords.

3. Get proof of identity. Insist on seeing a valid photo identification card from your potential tenants. The rental application should include a section to write down the driver's license number. Make a photocopy of the photo ID to attach to the application.

4. Perform a background check. Checking up on your potential tenant's past may not be fun, but it can help ensure that there are no preexisting problems lurking beneath the surface. If your potential tenant has a history of skipping rent or destroying property, you may be able to find this out through a background check.

5. Perform a credit check. In addition to a background check, you can check a potential renter's credit history. You will need to get his or her permission in writing as well as their Social Security number to perform this check.

6. Get the name of the previous landlord. Not all landlords report problem tenants to the authorities, so it's a good idea to follow up and check with their former landlord.

7. Ask for character references. Ask for references — and actually check with them. Not all applicants will give you "real" references, so following up is essential.

8. Meet your prospective tenants in person. In our busy world, many people are switching to digital communication and phone meetings. However, it's important to take the time to actually meet face to face with your potential tenants. This will help you get an idea about their personalities, and goes a long way toward making a lasting relationship.

9. Protect yourself. In addition to following the FHA, your rental application should state what you will do with the information your potential tenants provide. If you do not have their permission to run their credit report, you may not do so. Be up front by explaining your process, so you'll be protected from potential future allegations of impropriety.

10. Include a written code of conduct with the rental application or written lease. This should clearly state what's expected of you and your tenant, and will allow you to make sure everything is clearly explained. Have the prospective tenant sign that they have read the code of conduct.

By covering all your bases, you can help ensure that you will not only have the best tenants for your rental property, but also that your rights and the rights of your potential tenants are being protected.


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