April 30, 2018
Tagged in: Tenant Screening

If you are a landlord, pre-screening tenants can save time, aggravation and money. The pre-screening process begins even before the prospective tenant makes a rental application.

Done right, you’ll only end up attracting quality tenants.

Done wrong, and you might find yourself with the difficult task of an eviction.

To help you avoid that unfortunate situation, here’s how to pre-screen potential tenants.

Understand and Follow the Law

Discrimination in housing is illegal. As such, as a landlord, it’s important that you first familiarize yourself with what the law says you can and can’t ask. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity influences these federal laws.

These laws protect people from discrimination based on some protected characteristics. These characteristics include familial status, religion, race, color, national origin, and disability.

Examples of questions you can ask include:

  • Why are you leaving your current residence?
  • Are you will to undergo a background and credit check?
  • Do you have pets?
  • Can you pay move-in costs upon signing a lease?
  • When would you like to move?

Avoid questions such as:

  • How many children do you have?
  • Do you have a service animal?
  • Which country do you come from?

Asking these questions would be violating federal fair housing rules.

Begin Screening Tenants Using your Rental Listing

This is the first point of contact between you and your prospective tenants. In order to appeal to quality tenants, you need to make sure your rental listing is impressive. The following are must-have listing details:

  • Look and feel. Mention all the special features or recent upgrades that your home has. For example, a remodeled bathroom or a hardwood floor. This gives the prospective tenant an idea of what your house feels like before attending the showing.
  • Number of bathrooms and bedrooms. Tenants search listings based on how many rooms they need and the minimum number of bathrooms they’d like to have in a rental.
  • Rent, deposits, and fees. Clearly state the asking rent. Tenants browse listings with a budget in mind.
  • Photos. Many people will not even call about an ad if it doesn’t include a picture. So make sure you have a couple of high-quality photos that highlight the best part of your property.
  • Mention the property’s square footage and floor plan.
  • Other things to include in your rental listing include your pet policy, the screening process, property amenities, and your contact information.

To effectively communicate to tenants what is expected from them, you can include a sentence like: “All applicants must approve credit and background checks and complete a rental application.”

This sentence may appear simple but you’d be surprised at how effective it can turn out to be.

Use the First Contact as an Opportunity to Ask Important Questions

It’s important that you have some questions during the first contact. It’ll help save time. Usually, a prospective renter will use either a phone or email to reach out to you. Examples of questions to ask include the following:

  • Will you have the first month’s rent and security deposit ready if we sign a lease?
  • Do you have pets?
  • Where do you live now?
  • How many people living with you smoke?
  • What is your reason for moving?
  • Have you ever been evicted?
  • What is your planned move-in date?
  • How much do you make each month?
  • How many people will be living with you?
  • Will you authorize a background check and submit a rental application?
  • Can I ask for references from your employer?
  • Do you think your former landlord will give you a positive reference? If not, why?

These type of questions help minimize the number of applicants in two ways. One, if a tenant isn’t comfortable authorizing a background or credit check, providing references, or filling out a rental application, then you don’t need to move forward with the lead.

Two, if the tenant doesn’t reach again after hearing your requirements, then you can stop moving forward with him or her.

Screening Tenants at the Property Showing

Meet each prospective tenant separately. This way, it’ll be easier for you to notice any warning signs. You’ll also be able to remember important details about the prospective tenant.

Use the property showing to look for important details. For example, does the prospective tenant:

  • Ask important questions about the property
  • Take care of his or her belongings
  • Agree to a complete rental application
  • Remain interested and engaged
  • Seem hesitant to agree to a background and credit check

Pre-screening is a process that takes time. However, if done properly, it can save you problems by eliminating poor quality tenants. Having the right set of questions during this process is key. It goes without saying that such questions should adhere to the federal fair housing rules.

Author Bio: Stephen Fox is a digital marketing consultant and co-founder of Upkeep Media. Upkeep Media specializes in working with the real estate industry to improve their organic search, content marketing, Google Ads, and social media marketing. He also holds a number of online certifications and is a CPA. If you're interested in working with Stephen you can contact him via email at stephen.fox@upkeepmedia.com.

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