Screening Tenants For a Rental Property From a Landlord

interviewWhen you are a landlord, you need to rent to good people.  Screening tenants for your rental property will be the key to your success.  The tenant can be of any race, religion, nation origin, etc. Screening tenants will determine the experience that you will have and how much money you have the potential to make regardless of any protected class.  After all, making money is the goal of a landlord.  Providing housing, is secondary.

I would say that almost all people with a credit score of 625+, and a household income of $45K a year with a rent of ~$1,125, with a minimal criminal background and a clean rental history will make for a decent tenant.  Of course, a decent deposit will also be necessary.

Here are a few instances I recently came across with screening tenants, that shows what a landlord is up against in regards to tenant screening.

Apartment Turnover

I have a currently opening in my apartments, it is the fourth turnover this year.  I get all sort of applicants, some would be good tenants, some would be bad tenants.  Most all of them are great people just looking for a place to live.  Some are great in the searching stage, but how would they be if they were behind on rent, and you needed answers from them?  Knowing how to Screen tenants is an important skill to have.

When I get a response from my on-line ads, it is generally an email response.  If I get a text, I immediately send a response of “Please text me your email address, and I can send you some additional information about insert address here

I will then typically get an email address texted right back and I can respond via email.  If I get a call, I answer any questions, and then I request their email address, so I can send them a standard response.  When I show a unit, it is often the first time I have seen, or spoke with a live person.  Much of my screening is completed without ever seeing who my potential renter is.  It helps eliminate any bias.

Here is my latest response for my property I have advertised.  It answers the most common questions I have had in the past and gives a brief overview of the apartment.  I get hundreds of inquires after I advertise for a week, so I need to have a streamlined system.

The Standard Response

“Thank you for inquiring on insert address here.

This unit will be available September 16, 2016.  There is a possibility it may be available slightly earlier.

This is a three bedroom, one bath unit.  It is a non-smoking building.

I will be looking for tenants with a 625+ credit score, and a solid household income of at least ~$45,000 per year.  If you are marginal on both of these items, I will generally decline you.  Your criminal and rental history must be clean.  If you have had a foreclosure, I can work with you a bit on this.

I have a Real Estate license, so if you are preparing to buy a home, this is a perfect fit.  If you purchase a home through me, I can make sure the lease transition is easy, and also give you up to $500 back at closing to help with your moving expenses or anything you want.

Pets are allowed, however no Akita, Chow, Pit-bull, Rottweiler, or any cross breed with wolf are allowed.  A $25 fee per pet is a general rule of thumb.

There is a tandem garage, one car parks in front of the other.  There are two flights of stairs to get into the unit.  After that, it is all one level.  There is a washer and dryer in the unit.  The unit has one window air conditioner, and it works very well.

I have tenants in the unit, so I need to give advance notice for showing.  I generally show the unit on weekends between 11 AM and 4 PM and sometimes during the week between 6 PM and 7 PM.  You will need to schedule an appointment first, and then confirm the appointment ~30 minutes before you arrive.

I do not take Section 8.  If you have had an eviction, or you have had recent criminal activity including DUIs, I generally will pass on you.  If you are not a legal resident of the USA, I will not be able to rent to you as I cannot perform a valid background check.

The rent price includes water, sewer, garbage, lawn maintenance and snow removal.  It does not include gas or electric, which runs ~$125 per month.  The deposit is $1,300.

If you are still interested and want to look at the apartment, please let me know.

Additional Pictures with link to a virtual tour

https://www.youtube.com/link

http://www.trulia.com/rental/link

Eric phone, email”

Applicant One

The first applicant for my apartment was a decent person.  She came prepared, with application in hand, all filled out.  She indicated she had no evictions and no criminal convictions.  She had $40 cash for an application fee.  I took the application that day, continued to show the unit, and then went home to process it.  Red Flag:  Beware of anyone that is too eager to rent your apartment

I ran a quick search on our Minnesota Court site search on her name.  I saw an eviction from 2010.  I know the eviction was a while ago, and that can be excused.  The lie was on my application today, that is a larger issue.

I emailed her back.

Landlord Inquiry

“I see an eviction from Welsh Companies filed on 7/13/2010.  You did not disclose that on the application.

What is the story behind it, and why was it not disclosed on the application?”

Tenant One Response

“I was living with my ex-boyfriend, I had to move out due to domestic violent. I had an agreement with my landlord, and I wasn’t aware of that eviction. As far as I know that was settle I wasn’t notified about that at all. It was between them and my ex-boyfriend.”

Tenant One Conclusion

I did see the eviction coincided with an arrest of her boyfriend that was named in the eviction.  The eviction was for non-payment of rent.  She should have squared away the eviction by getting it expunged from her name.  She should have listed the eviction on the application, as I very much doubt that she was unaware of it.

I refunded her $40 and moved onto the next applicant(s).

 

Applicant Two

Applicant two applied.  He was a veteran, and appeared solid.  The household income was a bit light, but slightly above the minimum.  If the credit scores were solid, they would be fine.

I ran a quick search on our Minnesota Court site search.  I find a first degree burglary, filed as a misdemeanor in 2003.  First degree burglary is something that I want to know about, and this one was a long time ago.  It could be OK, but it was not disclosed.  So I inquired.

Landlord Inquiry

“I am currently processing an application from a tenant that submitted an application prior to yours.  I did do some preliminary checking on your applications.  I see that you checked that you were never convicted of a crime.  In 2003 it appears you were convicted of a crime.  Can you explain that?

You say you have $8,000 in income, although you are a full-time student.  How do you make $8,000 as a student?”

Tenant Two Response

“Sorry I wasn’t trying to hide that I was convicted of a crime back in 2003. I was convicted of 1st Degree Burglary, a felony charge. I was the driver of a couple of friends that robbed a house. I was sentenced to 120 days of house arrest and 3-year supervised probation. After 9 months of good behavior I was switched to unsupervised probation. Then after the 3 years were done the felony got changed to a misdemeanor.

As for the income I use the Post 9/11 GI Bill that pays for all my schooling and also give you a monthly check for housing allowance.”

Tenant Two Conclusion

Thank you for the explanation.  I decided to pass on your application(s).  I did not run any credit check, so it will not impact your credit score.

If the tenant would have been truthful, and his time after probation was clean for 10 years, he probably would have been accepted.

 

Max, The Entitlement Tenant

I refer to this tenant as Max, as that was his name.  I sent him the email, and he responds

First off, your text messaging as very unprofessional. I have a credit score of about 800 i think its 780 something. I make about 30k a year and my other roomate should at lest make 10k. However 40k seems really high as a requirement, if I made 40k i would definitely not live there. And idk who would. Idk if this is your property or if you are a realitor? But either way you are not someone I would want to deal with.

Thanks for your time(the 2 mins you spent on me)  I will find another place.  Max

My Response

Thank you, it is $45,000 for a household income. It is a government recommendation that people do not pay more than 30% of their household income in rent.

That is all roommates together. We have people making almost $200,000 a year living there. We have doctors, pilots, school teachers and bunch of the rest of the mix.

I do agree, a different complex would be best for you.

The Conclusion of Max

Max lacks control of the English language, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this part.  Texting with small buttons is prone to errors.

Max thought that my $45K household income was too high, and if he made that much, he would live somewhere else.  That is highly doubtful.

The minimum in our complex is $40K.  There are a lot of reasons for a minimum income in the complex, and one reason is it creates a higher incentive for the investors to maintain their property.  People with a $40K income will not live in a $700 dump.  They can move.  The average household income is well over $60K in this area.  If you only make $40K a year in household income, good luck finding a place that is affordable in my area.

Max thought I was very unprofessional.  I have never heard that before.  Perhaps if I said to him “If you look in the mirror and see trash, this place is not for you”, he may have a point.

With a $1,125 rent, you need to make $45K a year in order to pay 30% of your income.  Even paying 30% is a struggle for many.  I want my rent on-time.  I do not want your car troubles to be mine.  I do this for my household, not yours.

Good riddance Max.

Update:  I took an application from two girls and received an $80 in application fees.  They passed, but only used the application fee as an option to hold the apartment for a few days.  They eventually rented somewhere else.

I took another application from a brother/sister combination along with $1,000 to hold the unit.  One dog.  They passed with flying colors and I will not have any vacancy.

Was I too hard on the applicants?  Did I make the right decision?  I am still vacant as I write this, so maybe I will regret it?

 

 

 

 

 

41 Replies to “Screening Tenants For a Rental Property From a Landlord”

  1. I think your on the right track Eric. Look at it this way…you’ve been doing this for a while now so why would you start the change your tenant criteria now? Because you’ve retired and now want to deal with troublesome tenants? I think not. Stick to your numbers. They are all solid indicators of responsible people Thanks for sharing. I’ve stolen quite a few of your screening tips by the way. It’s kind of funny how so much emphasis gets put on the property when the tenant has a much larger factor in the sucess.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      You are 100% correct. There is an old saying “Always Go Home with the Lady Who Brought you to the Dance”. Once you get a successful method, keep at it and continue to replicate it.

  2. What is your rationale for “working a bit on this” for people with foreclosures? Wouldn’t a foreclosure be the perfect indicator that they do not know how to manage their finances?

    1. Thank you for reading!

      No. A foreclosure victim is someone who probably had great credit at one time, and is temporarily down. If you had a solid credit score going into a home ownership situation, you will still have a 600+ credit score, even maybe over 650. Some people exclude renters simply because of a foreclosure. Successful people may get down, but eventually come back. They know all about the economics of a rental property, as they were once a homeowner too. Foreclosure victims have been some of my most solid renters.

      In the housing crisis, banks loaned money to people that could not afford to pay. Mostly due to political pressures. It’s like taking in a renter who only makes 2x the rent in income, and eventually does not pay. That is the landlord’s fault, not the tenants fault.

      1. You said “In the housing crisis, banks loaned money to people that could not afford to pay. Mostly due to political pressures.”

        Everything you said before and after this was accurate but I must disagree with this statement because the housing crisis had very little if anything to do with political pressure for banks to loan to lower income people, and pressure to loan to them has ever been done by social interest people and groups. The housing crisis had to do with unrestricted financial transactions within the banking industry, investor returns on REITs, and insurance paybacks for stock losses on these types of investments. No political pressure just lots of wealthy people getting wealthier at the expense of lower income people.

        1. Thank you for reading!

          We do know that much of he problem was because too many people were given loans that should not have gotten them. Why they were given loans is probably more complex. Investors went broke at the end because the music stopped. People that should not have gotten loans defaulted as they were given a loan they could not afford.

          Many banks, mortgage brokers and investment firms made money as they could initiate a loan, and sell it 100% and not carry any risk. It was great for the economy, until it wasn’t.

          Now, people need to have better credit and a down payment. Many groups think that banks are too strict, but Banks now have to carry some of the risk. So, with the new rules, we have less home ownership, which is great for landlords.

          1. It’s unfortunate that some people either don’t know their history or for some political ideology decide to ignore it. A quick Google search can enlighten the those that can be shown reason. Those that can’t, no amount of evidence will persuade.

  3. Eric, I’ve learned more form you than you have from me. But I figure if I ever have a stubborn vacancy, I’d rather incentivize the rent than lower the criteria. Once I advertised in July that if they paid the rent on time through the end of the year, I would knock a few bucks off of January’s rent to help with Holiday bills coming in. That did the trick and got me a quality tenant in 2012 that is still with me today. Hope this helps

    Dave

  4. My criteria is very similar to yours, though I am marginally more strict. I require a 650 credit score, and disqualify anyone with any criminal history whatsoever. I’ve never had an applicant who met income and credit score requirments who had a criminal history.

    Only thing I do different, is it seams you stear folks away from texting to email. I use texting alot, and have found my best tenants are those who text in a professional manner. They also usually have the easiest time using my online rent payment etc ensuring I get paid on time.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I do use texting for existing tenants – a lot. It is hard for me to get the basic information out about the apartment in a text. And I do not want to waste time on a prospect that does not qualify, or dies not want to live in my place when they find out the extra information. Stairs often rules people out.

      Like you, I very seldom have anyone with a solid income and decent credit score and a criminal background. It’s almost 100% that a low score will have some criminal issues.

  5. Hey NNL,
    Nope, right decisions, all of them. Better to have a temporary lack of income, then issues in the long run that costs much more money. We have not found that out the hard way yet, as we use property managers to screen the tenants. There are financial (tax reasons, primary reason) and personal reasons (two full time jobs with travel + kid) for doing this. It also includes a risk management component.
    As to lowering the rent (noted above), we did the same with one property, but increased the duration of the contract to still make it interesting for us financially. Could be a good decision. Depends a bit on the turnover on this particular property.
    Good luck!

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Do not rely on a property manager to make the right decisions. They will also take in poor quality tenants in order to make a commission. PMs have their place, but they are after the money too.

      I am fortunate enough to be able to manage all my rentals for now. My average turnover is about 30 months, although this year, is exceptional. If this kind of year would hold out it would be 72 months. I have only had 4 turnovers in 25 rentals.

      1. Wow, that one seriously good low turnover rate for this year. Hope is keeps going.

        As for the PM, which we completely understand from your perspective, in the Dutch Tax system it actually is making financial sense. It puts the properties into a lower tax regime (wealth vs income), which largely offsets the costs for management. Works for us, and we like the second set of eyes on screening and management.

        1. PMs certainly have their place. If not, no one would use them. At some point, I have even recognized I may have to use them.

          My fingers are crossed on the vacancies… One tenant moved out today, and pays rent until 9/15. The new tenant moves in on 9/16. A similar situation with my other September turnover. The tenant should be vacated by 9/8, paying rent until 9/30, new tenant moves in on 10/1.

  6. Wa, you have it easy as far as screening. As I understand it, it’s not legal for landlords in CA to screen for criminal history (although many do), can you believe it?

    When I screen, I only allow combined incomes for married couples. For roommates, they must individually qualify. Otherwise if one roommate decides to move out, I might be stuck with a renter who wouldn’t qualify on their own.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I think you can still use criminal records in every state, you just cannot block everyone, forever. Nor can you use arrest records, you ave to use convictions.

      I generally do not like roommates, they are short-term, and are always problems. Someone gets some else pregnant, gets married, breaks up, etc. It’s never good for a landlord.

      1. Eric’s right. In CA, you can screen for criminal records, but you can’t have a blanket ban on people with a criminal history and you can’t use arrest records, they have to be convictions.

        If you have a different source that says otherwise, Joe, please list it here so we can all check it out. Thanks! 🙂

    2. Really!? I just did a screening using ezlandlordforms and they only have 1 screening package that does both credit and criminal? Oh well.

      But yeah, in California, everything is stacked against the landlord.

      1. Thank you for reading!

        When a state has the deck stacked against you, you need to get better tenants to reduce risk. And charge higher rents. Get larger deposits. More frequent inspections, and repairs paid for as soon as they are recognized. Evictions have to start on day 2, not day 20+.

  7. How do you search a name for evictions and criminal records on the court sites? I am in California and searched but there is no section to look up a person’s name?

    1. Years ago, most of the counties in California had websites set up where it was easy to run someone’s name through for free. Since the state budget crisis started, though, the trend has been for counties to lock down the search and at least to charge a fee for it.

      Some counties also require you to have some reason/authority for checking in addition to charging a fee. I think Orange County would only let me access the info after paying a fee and confirming that I’m an attorney. I might be incorrect about that, but that’s my best recollection.

      There are still some counties that let you check for free. I think San Bernardino County might be one of them. But I think most of them are paid searches now.

      I think your best bet is just to pay for criminal screening as part of the background check. Some of the credit check companies charge a lot to do it (like $75), but there are a few places where you can get it way cheaper. The Apartment Owner’s Association in California will give you the full background screening (credit, criminal, evictions) for about $16, but there is an application and office inspection requirement. I used Properly (properlyrent.com) to screen my tenants and do the full background/evictions check, and it’s about $35, paid directly by the tenant to Properly. I would recommend Properly.

    2. You can use TenantMagic net There is no charge to you – the applicant pays the $35 fee. You get complete credit report (including a credit score) an eviction report, a criminal report (nationwide to the municipal level) and a sex offender report.

      1. Thank you for reading!

        There are many background check companies. You need to make sure you do a county wide search, not a criminal search. And you need to get the exact credit score, not a red, yellow, green scheme.

  8. Sounds to me like you’re doing all the right things, and your email is definitely professional enough. I used your suggestion and created a similar boilerplate email to send to potential applicants. It helped me weed through a ton of unqualified people who simply bowed out of the process.

    My requirements were actually higher than yours because the market is really hot here and I just renovated my building (and so I REALLY didn’t want tenants who might wreck it). I said minimum 660 credit score and income 3x the rent.

    I had one bitter person respond saying if she had that criteria, she would just buy a house. Well, yeah, but you’d need to scrape together a huge down payment in Orange County, California, which is why I had no problem finding very qualified renters. I just didn’t respond to her, though. I was tempted to tell her that there were a lot of people who met that criteria, and they’re called “future homeowners,” but that would have just been kicking dirt in her face, so I let it go. Let her figure out for herself that having a crappy credit score and not taking steps to fix it is going to continue to hurt her for the rest of her adult life.

    I think it’s a good sign that you’re having a little difficulty finding the perfect tenant. If it were too easy, it would mean you’re priced too low. My units filled up a little too fast, I think, so next vacancy I get I will try to bump the rent up a bit and see what happens.

  9. Oh Max. How entitled can one be to insult the landlord of the unit they are applying to? Thanks for writing this post Eric. Learned a lot about what you’re looking for and how you confront applicants with questionable and undisclosed issues in their past. You mentioned the unit will be available on 9/16, but I’m curious how early did you start marketing this vacancy?

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I typically start marketing the unit as soon as I get notice the existing tenants are leaving. Good tenants are looking 30-60 days out. In this market, some are looking even further out, as the rental market is very tight. People that want to move in within 2-3 weeks are red flags. Why are they in a hurry to move in I wonder?

      I will generally try and rent for the middle of the month if the existing tenants have doubled up on their move out situation. That makes it easier on the new tenants, and saves money for the old tenants. Moving trucks are cheaper, and it gives the new tenants time to move in, and go back and clean up their old place.

  10. I have a single family house up for rent in Southern California in Anaheim. The house is considered big in that area (2400 sqft) and so is the rent. It’s hard to get a family qualified our criteria without subleasing.

    First grouping applicants told me they are four professionals sharing the house. But once they’ve submitted their applications I only saw two adults on the forms with occupations as a uber driver (single mom too) and a store helper making $10/hour.

    2nd group told me that she is with her husband with one girl and another baby on the way. They will be sharing the house with her mother-in-law and two aunts. Her family is currently living in a hotel. I checked her facebook and I think she and her husband are both around age 22. Her husband even post comments on his own facebook saying that he just got out of jail recently.

    Group #3 is section 8 which I turned down immediately. Is it that hard to find a decent family with qualified income/FICO in Disney area? What websites or tools do you usually to find your tenants? I only posted on Craigslist so far. Please advice.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      There is an old saying, “You can always increase demand by lowering price”. Or you can increase your marketing efforts. I also use Zillow (formerly PostLets), and once in a while I also use RentBits. Keep your solid criteria, pre-screen before showing to make it less work. Here is a post that may help too. I have several similar posts if you look as well.

    2. Hi Jessica,

      You don’t mention the timeframe in which you received these three inquiries. If it was a few days, then this isn’t much of a problem. More will come. If it’s a month, then yes you need more marketing. You can try the local papers(there will be a fee) or neighborhood specific sites like NextDoor.com. Also there are the marketing web sites. Here is a list I got off a quick google search(so I don’t support any of these. All I did was find a list.):

      Apartments.com
      ApartmentFinder
      ApartmentHomeLiving
      RentJungle
      RentBits
      Trulia
      Zillow
      HotPads
      AOL Rentals
      Oodle
      Trovit
      MyNewPlace
      Vast
      AmericanTowns
      CLRSearch
      Kiplinger
      Walkscore
      Craigslist Posting HTML

      If it comes to it, you could always list it with a realtor.

      Brian

  11. I would rent from you, No Nonsense Landlord. And, I’m looking. But I suspect you don’t own properties where I’m looking (Coon Rapids). I like that you check criminal history. I know you do it to save yourself drama and headaches and potential damage to property that you own, but I’m sure that it’s also a wonderful selling point to your other tenants as well. I wouldn’t want to live near any of the people you’ve listed above with the criminal histories. I guess I am a bit surprised that you consider 650 to be a good credit score? Isn’t that generally in the fair to poor category?

    1. Thank you for reading and the vote of confidence!

      I do not have properties in Coon Rapids. Move to Eagan, where people will ooh and ahh when you tell them where you live.

      650 is not great, but the average renter credit score is right around that mark, so it is not too bad.

  12. I like your process. Is there a certain paid website you go to get all this info? I usually can check the state court system and do widespread google searches, but always looking for easier ways!
    Thanks!
    Dave

  13. Great article. It does a great job putting yourself in the shoes of a landlord so you know the situations you’ll be experiencing. I think it’s great to always stay focused on your goal: You are doing this to benefit your life and convenience, not theirs. That motto will help you stay true to finding the right people. I like the way you handled these situations. If they lie to you once, they’ll lie to you again. It’s easier to cut ties with them before they lie to you when you have signed legal documents binding the two of you together. Also great insight on the entitled tenant. If you don’t like them through the application process, you probably won’t like them during the tenant process. Cut ties with them before a document is signed!

    1. Thank you for reading!

      A tenant application is like a job interview. If a tenant is showing bad behavior at the application, you can imagine what they are like when you are evicting them for ‘only’ being a month behind in rent…

      It takes all kinds. When you are a landlord, you get to see an entirely different breed of people.

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