Tenant screening is a critical part of being a successful landlord. But screening is not just about eliminating the professional deadbeat tenant, it is also about eliminating and reducing the amount of problems you have as a landlord. It is about finding people who will be good fits for your properties, who will live by your rules, not theirs.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
The Tough Part About Screening Tenants
Screening out the deadbeats is relatively easy. A simple credit check will turn them up. Finding tenants who will be good fits for you and your properties is however a bit more nuanced.
Tenant screening always begins with that first point of contact. That first phone call or e-mail can say plenty about who is looking to rent your property.
But the rubber really hits the road so-to-speak with your application. A completed application, that asks the right questions, can go a long way towards easing your pain later on.
Of course you need to get the standard stuff like name, social, work history, etc. But your application should also ask questions designed to weed out those who may not fit. Questions designed to weed out tenants who will break your rules and cause you enforcement nightmares later on.
Let’s say you have banned smoking in your properties and no longer rent to smokers. You might think that asking “Do you smoke?” on your application will eliminate smokers from your properties. But people lie. So it might be better to not ask a yes or no question but ask an either/or question like “Do you smoke indoors or outside?” Either answer will eliminate the smoker.
You can use this technique with all sorts of criteria. Pets are another good example. Rather than asking “Do you own a pet?” ask “What type of pet do you own?” Sure, people can still lie, but they are much more likely to answer the second type of question truthfully.
Another question that may help you on your application is “Who is your attorney?” You may wonder why we care who a tenant’s attorney is but we wonder why the tenant needed an attorney? Did they go through a bankruptcy or need a criminal defense? This question seems innocuous on the application but the answer can give you a reason to dig deeper.
A final example is “Who can we contact in case of an emergency?” We ask this question for two reasons. First, in case there truly is an emergency and second to try and the tenant if they decide to skip out in the middle of the night. They may not tell you where they went, but they may tell mom and dad and mom and dad may just tell you.
Tenant screening is not always a cut and dry, yes or no process, but it is one of the most important things a landlord can do. As a landlord, you need to develop your application and screening process with the goal of finding the best fit for you and your properties. Asking insightful questions will help you in achieving that goal.
What questions do you ask on your application? Please share with your comments.