The screening process can be long and tedious at times, but it pays dividends to have the right tenant in place.

Having a tenant who causes problems can be a real headache, especially for a new or inexperienced landlord. Luckily, the majority of tenant-related issues can be avoided altogether by using an effective screening process to eliminate potentially problematic would-be renters. Finding a well-qualified tenant for your property can be simple when you break down the screening process into these four steps.

Keep in mind that you must not discriminate in your final selection process. Each applicant must be evaluated using the same criteria.

Step 1: Introduction

Introduction to potential tenants happens even before meeting them face-to-face, often over the phone or by email, and during this step, you can “prequalify” the interested parties. It helps to think of this first contact as an interview, which will help you to determine whether or not to take the relationship further.

Before investing your time and energy into Step Two of the screening process, you’ll want any potential tenants to understand and be comfortable with several of your basic policies and procedures, such as required length of stay, security deposit, smoking allowances, maximum occupancy and rules regarding pets.

It will help you to collect a little information from them as well, like their name, contact number, reason for moving and anticipated move-in date. These will come in handy when following up. Serious and qualified clients will usually be more than happy to hear you out and answer any questions you have, because they want to make a good impression. If this isn’t the case, consider it a red flag.

Step 2: Meeting Face-to-Face

Often, this step will happen when you show the property or unit to a prospective tenant, but it may also happen in an office setting, perhaps as a result of a walk-in, or at another predetermined meeting place. Wherever you are, keep an eye out for the “Three A’s”—appearance, attitude and awareness. 

Appearance is a big one. We all know not to judge a book by its cover, but when your valuable property is on the line, it’s OK to err on the side of caution. Exercise judgment and proceed with caution when a prospect doesn’t live up to your expectations, provided your expectations are reasonable.

Attitude is just as important as appearance, if not more so. If a would-be tenant shows up late to a meeting with no notice, it’s not unreasonable to imagine this person might be late with rental payments, too. Is he or she respectful of you and your property? You can tell by keeping your eye on the little details, like whether your prospects wipe their shoes before coming inside, or how they open and close doors, and so on.

Awareness is another important characteristic of an ideal tenant. You want your clients to have a working knowledge of renting or leasing property, and to be proactive with holding up their end of the bargain. Does the potential tenant ask you questions about things like maintenance, utilities and insurance? If so, you probably have a serious prospect on your hands, maybe even one who is ready to hand over a deposit today.

Step 3: The Application

Whether you create your own form, or borrow one from online, you’ll want to have a thorough, well-laid-out application on hand. It’s good to keep some with you at all times.

In addition to basics like name, date of birth and permanent address, have a place on your application for the prospect to list his or her Social Security number, driver’s license number and several references. These will allow you to take the screening process as far as you want to, by contacting references, obtaining a credit report and even running a background check. Keep in mind that many states require consent for background checks, so you may want a separate form for that purpose.

Once the prospective tenants give you all the necessary information, let them know that you’ll inform them of your decision as soon as possible. Review and verify all the information on the application before the next step.

Step 4: The Agreement

This is the home stretch when it comes to tenant screening, and you don’t want any surprises if possible. Make sure you have a quality rental agreement form that addresses all your concerns. If you don’t write it yourself, then make sure you have read and understand each clause. That way, you can confidently explain them to your prospect.

Your would-be tenants might be anxiously awaiting their new set of keys, but it’s important to take your time with this final step. Patiently point out each clause and ask if they have any questions. If they seem unable to comprehend part of the agreement, or balk at a particular stipulation, you may be back to square one all over again.

It’s advisable for you to have an attorney who specializes in this area to look over your procedures and documents to ensure you do not violate any Fair Housing rules.

Congratulations—You Have A New Tenant!

The screening process can be long and tedious at times, but try to keep in mind that sometimes no tenant is better than the wrong tenant. Trust your instinct, and stick to your policies and principles. Finding the right tenant can be difficult, but is worth it in the end!

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  • Abhi Golhar

    Abhi Golhar is a real estate investor, entrepreneur, 3x nationally syndicated radio show host on the Wall Street Business Radio Network, and media figure, whose experience encompasses print, podcasting, radio, and television appearances.

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