The usual landlord/tenant relationship goes something like this. The tenant rents an apartment, pays the rent, the landlord maintains the property and all is well. The times that the landlord/tenant relationship goes sour can often be traced back to the tenant screening process.
Bad tenants usually do not just develop overnight, they have been bad tenants for a while and they leave a trail. Your job as a landlord is to sniff out this trail before you allow them in your property. You can save yourself many headaches by rigorously screening your prospective tenants. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that tenant screening is the key component to being a successful landlord.
Bad tenants may present themselves very well. They may dress and speak well. They will say all the right things. They may even have cash in hand and be ready to move in. When someone is holding $500 in front of you to move in it, can be very tempting. Do not do it! Screen them! Screen everyone thoroughly. Check every reference and verify everything on their application. Oh, you don’t use a written application?!? Well there is your first problem.
Here are some tips when screening tenant applications:
- Pull credit and criminal history on everyone. This is your first line of defense against the bad tenant. Compare the data in the reports you receive with what is stated on your application. Does it match? If it does not, dig deeper. Why is the info different? If we discover lies, that is immediate cause for disapproval.
- Verify their work history. Do not do this by calling the number they have listed on the application if you can help it. A friend may be waiting for your call on the other end. Instead, call the main office and get transferred into the department where the person says they work. In this way you can avoid the “friend” set up.
- The current landlord may want them out and will therefore lie to you. It is best to talk with the previous landlord or to get an accurate view.
- People forge documents. It has happened to us. Do not believe the paycheck stubs, letterhead, whatever. Verify everything with the issuer.
- The old adage is true; do not judge a book by its cover. We had a well dressed, well spoken man fill out and application, say all the right things and pay the application fee in cash. He must have assumed we would pocket the fee and not check. He had never paid a bill in his life. Even the phone company was after him! There are professional scammers out there, be vigilant. It would have taken us at least 4 months to get him out. I know that time frame could be a year or more in some parts of the country.
- Ask their place of employment if there are any planned layoffs. We had a tenant get laid off the day he was approved to move in.
Most people are good, tell the truth and try to do the right thing. Your job is to weed out the bad ones by finding the lies. And they will lie to cover up their past, and get into your property. Evictions are neither fun nor cheap. So save yourself some hassle, set up a rigorous tenant screening process. Also, be sure to treat every applicant in the same manner by using the exact same screening process. Don’t set yourself up for a discrimination lawsuit because you treated one perspective tenant differently.
Until next time, Happy Investing!