Common Tenant Screening Mistakes

The more experience a landlord gains in screening tenants, the better equipped they will be to ward off bad tenants and keep their rental properties running smoothly and profitably.

That's not to say that you can't get a head start by looking at mistakes shared by other landlords, and taking steps to avoid those same problems.

Here are some common areas that you can improve, so you don't get burned by a problem tenant:

  1. Always run a renter background check on each adult occupant of the rental property. That means both husband and wife, each roommate, every child over the age of 18. Each person will need to fill out a rental application first.

    Why go to all that trouble?

    Because a problem tenant can easily hide behind the rental application of a friend or family member. As soon as the lease is signed, this otherwise unqualified tenant moves into your rental property. Also, where you have multiple occupants, you may run into the situation where one moves out. Then, it's even more important that you have information on the remaining tenant.

  2. Be aware that the information you receive in tenant screening reports is private and protected by law. Exercise stringent care when storing these reports so the information is not compromised. Limit the number of people who have access to such records.

  3. Make sure you review the Fair Housing Act and related rules before you set out to choose a rental applicant. It is important that you treat each person the same so you avoid claims of discrimination, which can cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.

  4. Do not accept a rental applicant who has not fully completed the rental application. This can be a sign that the candidate has something to hide.

  5. To the extent possible, whittle down the list of prospective tenants when you first meet with or speak to them on the phone. Ask questions about income, and when the person is available to move in. That saves an enormous amount of time when it comes to screening the applicant.

  6. Keep documentation, but be aware that this documentation may be viewed by others. Don't make personal comments regarding any rental applicant that could be construed as discriminatory.

  7. Remember that tenant screening reports needs to be used in conjunction with one another to get a clear picture of the applicant. Each is another piece of the puzzle. Criminal background checks are dependent upon a court releasing the information. These reports are sourced by legal name and often by date-of-birth, but never by SSN. If a criminal record slips under the radar, the credit report may show related problems that can be used to identify a problem tenant. The same is true of eviction reports. If, for instance, the previous landlord did not report the eviction, but rather paid the tenant to leave, a credit check may still reveal a previous address not listed by the applicant, late payments or another creditor's judgment.