Landlording & Rental Properties

3 Sneaky (But Legal) Ways to Screen Potential Tenants

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Let’s go over three advanced ways to screen your applicants that are a little outside the box.

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1. Social Media

In today’s world, people often put more information publicly on their Facebook, Twitter, or other social network profile than they would even tell their own mother. This information is a goldmine for landlords to discover more about their prospective tenants. We always do an online search on our potential tenants and see if we can find any information that would help us make an informed decision. For example, a young couple once applied for one of our apartments that does not allow pets. However, upon checking her Facebook page, we discovered the applicant posing with a brand new puppy with the caption, “My adorable new puppy!!! Isn’t she cute!?” Surprise, surprise. That information was definitely helpful.


By searching social networks, you might also discover information about their current living situation, roommates, or whether they complain all the time. Or maybe they seem just as great as they did in person and on their application. Another option for using social networks for learning more about your applicant is by looking for mutual friends or acquaintances and getting their opinion. In larger areas this may not work as well, but in small towns most people are connected in some way or another. If you notice your applicant is also mutual friends with “Sarah,” an old friend from high school, consider shooting Sarah a message asking if she knows anything about the applicant that would be helpful in making an informed decision about their tenancy. Remember, the point of all this is to learn as much about the prospective tenant as possible before approving them so you can make an informed decision. There’s nothing like approving your new tenant only to discover too late that you made a horrible error.

Related: 4 Old School Tenant Screening Tips That Still Hold True For Modern Landlords

2. Google

Almost everything you’ve ever done publicly in your life is chronicled somewhere on the internet. The same is true of your applicant. As of this writing, the best source for searching the internet is, of course, Google. Searching Google for a tenant’s name is helpful for discovering little known facts about the applicant’s life. You can also try combining the applicant’s name with their city or county to narrow your search. You’ll most likely get all sorts of information by Googling a person’s name, but you are looking for information that specifically tells you a little more about the applicant, such as whether they were recently in the county’s jail roster or have been involved in lawsuits.

To search Google, try entering their name within quotation marks, which causes the search to be narrowed down to only the the applicant’s full name, or what you entered within the quotations. For example, entering “John Smith” will only show you results for “John Smith,” whereas entering John Smith without quotations will show you results for anything containing the name “John” and anything containing “Smith.” Using quotation marks will significantly narrow your search.


3. Drive by Unexpectedly

Curious about how your prospective applicant will take care of your home should you approve them? A look at their current residence should give you a pretty good idea. Consider driving by or even paying them a visit at their home to get a good look at how much care they show (or don’t) to their yard maintenance, housekeeping, and general cleanliness. If they live like slobs now or their lawn is two feet tall, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Related: 12 Tips I’ve Learned From Screening Close to 500 Prospective Tenants

Once you have processed your applicant’s application, you should have everything you need to either accept or deny them tenancy. If they have met your minimum standards for qualification and exhibit traits of dependability, reliability, and responsibility, you’re off to a great start. If they have failed to meet your minimum standards of what you are looking for in a tenant, you will most likely deny them tenancy and wait for someone more qualified.

[This excerpt was taken from The Book on Managing Rental Properties, which gives investors valuable information on everything from screening tenants to managing everyday issues — and everything else you need to know for successful buy and hold investing.]

Have you ever used these techniques? Any other outside-the-box ways you check out applicants?

Let me know with a comment!

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has tau...
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    Replied almost 4 years ago
    One helpful tip in finding a possibly acceptable tenant for a duplex.: Walls are thin, and the tenants have to be able to “get along”. When you move someone in that the other tenant doesn’t know, you can expect a call from one side or the other complaining, usually about noise-doors slamming, kids, etc. I don’t even consider allowing dogs. Now, as soon as I hear I might have a vacancy soon, I alert the tenant in the other half of duplex to start asking friends if they’re interested. The don’t always qualify, but you have a good chance that they are a similar type person to the tenant that you are happy with. At least your existing tenant is not as likely to leave due to personality clashes.
    Jerome Kaidor Investor from Hayward, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Have staff check out their car! If it’s a pigsty, then their apartment will be one too.
    Jim Shepard Investor from Edwardsville, Illinois
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    These are great tips! I had an uncomfortable feeling about 2 prospective tenants a few years back. I decided to stop by their house unannounced to have a credit release form signed. I wanted to see how much of a mess their house was in. I sure was surprised when a uniformed police officer answered the door! It was his house and he had never heard of the couple. I guess they were living in their parents basement after getting kicked out by their previous landlord? Don’t know but I am glad I didn’t rent to them.
    John Teachout Rental Property Investor from Concord, GA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I always research the phone number I get for their present landlord reference to make sure it actually coincides with that person and business. And yes I use Google and facebook to collect data. A house is an asset worth many thousands of dollars and it is incumbent on the owner of that property (me) to make sure the person I’m leasing it to is going to treat it appropriately.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Perfect read for owners looking to screen tenants, Along with the basic background checks your tips will certainly help the owner to do a holistic check so that he finds the right tenant.
    Peter Mac Rental Property Investor from Irvine, CA
    Replied about 3 years ago
    All great tips.
    Stephen Willis Rental Property Investor from New York, NY
    Replied about 1 year ago
    Great tips that I haven’t thought of before.
    Benjamin Tighe from Medford Oregon
    Replied about 1 year ago
    A family member recently graduated college and moved out with her fiance. The landlord asked that all applicants that met her initial criteria write a brief letter about themselves and why they deserved the unit. These units rent for around 20 percent below market. I believe it was optional but encouraged.
    Arya Jackson from San Francisco, Bay Area
    Replied about 1 year ago
    Good tips! Definitely think social media is a great way to see the character of the person. I used Tellus app's screening feature, they allowed me to screen any potential tenants all for free!
    Replied 6 months ago
    I see now why I can't find a nice place to live in Akron Ohio. I have a low credit score because of medical bills and had surgery and had to retire. I have NEVER DESTROYED anyone property but because I have a low credit score and get only 780.dollars a month I don't qualify for decent housing. I feel this is very unfair. I have 1cat and been in the same apartment for 5 years and never had any complaints from neighbors or landlord. What about someone like me? I am 62yrs old.