10 Steps to Screen a Potential Tenant

Tenant Check August 19, 2019
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10 Steps to Screen a Potential Tenant

Renting out a property can be stressful. Whether it is a multi-unit building or a spare room in your home, ensuring you have the right tenant can be a daunting process. Below are ten simple steps, and some bonus resources, to help you along the way.

1. Clear Understanding of Local Rental Laws

This is the most time consuming and important step. Knowing the laws in your area relevant to running a rental property is key. Breaking the law because you didn’t know is a costly error that can be easy to avoid. It is important to have a good working knowledge of the Federal Fair Housing Act. A quick Google search can help you find both your city and state Landlord-Tenant laws, but also any changes that were made recently. For more information on recent changes made in Washington state, see our blog post.

2. New Tenant Checklist

Creating a customized checklist for your property can cut down on the time needed to hunt down paperwork, avoid missing crucial steps in the rental process, and keep you and your team organized. This checklist can include the steps for the tenant screening but also the steps to ensuring that the property is ready for your new tenants to move in! Check out our Sample Landlord Checklist.

3. Application

The information that a potential tenant will need to provide on an application is pretty standard. But resources are available to help you customize them for state-specific laws. If renting the property to multiple people it may be required that each adult applicant fill out their own application. Applications should include the following:

  • Your List Item
  • Address of the Rental Property
  • First and Last Name of Applicant
  • Current Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Previous Addresses
  • Emergency Contact
  • Background Information
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Vehicle Information
  • Employment and Income Information
  • Personal References
  • Pets (if applicable)

Customizable state-specific applications can be made here.

4. Meet with Tenant

It is important to speak to the applicant(s). This can be done when they come to tour the property or over the phone if the application is completed online. It is good to know what you are looking for in a tenant prior to showing the unit or accepting applications. Some questions to ask can include:

  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you have kids?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Will you have any roommates?
  • When are you wanting to move in?
  • Why are you moving?
  • Have you ever been evicted?
  • What is your monthly income?

5. Credit Check

Depending on what service you use to screen your tenants, the credit check can be bundled with number 6, the background check and eviction history. All three of these, including a predictive Resident Score optimized to prevent evictions, are provided in the Whitepages TenantCheck product. This is important information to obtain to avoid costly evictions. A credit check can help you determine if the applicant is a good financial fit for the rental. This will include information on credit history, current outstanding loans, and credit cards. For information on what kind of credit check you need, see our blog post on the difference between a hard inquiry and soft inquiry.

6. Background Check/Eviction History

A background check and eviction history should be conducted on all adults applying for the property. It can make or break a tenant that sounded good on paper or over the phone. This is also where it is critical to find a reputable site that you trust. Background reports, generally, will provide you with previous addresses, phone numbers, criminal history, and other public information. Most tenant screening services also offer eviction history for an additional fee. Note: Check with your city and state laws before purchasing a report that includes criminal history. Some states prohibit the use of criminal history when determining eligibility for a rental property.

7. Social Media Review

This step is optional but can be quite insightful. Just remember, when searching for an applicant on social media sites make sure you have the right person before you dig into their public-facing data and make decisions based on it. If you have a question about what you’ve seen on an applicant’s social media, you can always ask them to shed some light on the situation. 

8. Landlord References

Finding out from previous landlords is another reliable way to check their rental history. Landlords can be validated with a simple Person Search on Whitepages or Whitepages Premium.

  • Did they pay their rent on time?
  • Was the property damaged outside “normal wear and tear”?
  • Were there noise complaints?
  • Would they rent to them again?

9. Employer Reference/Verify Employment

With a quick call to the applicant’s current, or most recent employer, you can verify the most crucial piece of information: Can they pay rent? This can get complicated depending on state and city laws, specifically what information the employer can release. An Employment Verification Request can be done by phone or written request. It may be required to get written consent from the applicant to contact any employer. More information on Employment Verification can be found here.

10. Notify Applicants

At the end of the day, the tenant you choose is an important decision. Some states have laws regarding who you must rent to—the first person with a completed application who passes the background check, for example. Know these laws before you start accepting applications. Regardless of who you choose, make sure to notify any other people who have completed applications that the property is no longer available.