Tenant screening - timing and tool of choice?

14 Replies

Hey there,

Recently we've tried the transunion tool and we have generally found prospective applicants shying away from this online approach.

So maybe you can help me sort this out.

One, when, at what point in the process, do you bring up and do the screening?

And then, what's the simplest, quickest, cost effective way to do the screening offline and do you need the tenant to sign something?

Thank you~

Taylor,

Two methods that have been effective for me is using an application that details their financial and residence history. There are example application that can be found online or I could even e-mail mine to you.

The second method that is very helpful is to ask the potential tenant on the spot (after filling out the application) to see their current residence. This will give you a great idea of how this tenant will treat your property. If they delay or "him and haw" they may not be great tenants. If they let you come visit their current residence right away they probably do not have much to hide and could be an ideal tenant.

Hope this helps!

Dan

Hi Dan,

Thanks for jumping in and for the reminder about the tried and true printed 1-pager application. We've been doing a lot online and had skipped this recently going for the screening instead.

This second option is usually not an option for us because tenants are coming from out of town.

Taylor,

Another viable option would be the traditional method of calling previous landlords. A reference check never hurts. I hope this was of some value to you.

What type of property are you trying to rent?

My first few screenings I used the biggerpockets/transunion screening tool. It worked fine but I found that I was constantly walking people step by step through the process, some folks didnt have full time computer access, some people couldn't provide an email address etc.

So I swapped over to using another tool/method of simply collecting an application fee up front and have them fill out the application on my website or in person. I get all the information I need to run their credit/criminal history report myself. You can use any number of websites to do this,I think they average cost is around 25-30 bucks/screening.

I start the screening on the phone! I don't want to waste time showing a rental to someone who can't pass my screening. So, I ask them who all will live there. Then, I tell them that I thoroughly screen everyone that will live there and I don't take anyone that has been evicted in the past 7 years; I don't take anyone that has a felony; I don't take anyone that has more than 2 misdemeanors in the past 3 years; or anyone that has any illegal drugs on their record in the past 7 years. If they tell me they will pass and I'm near my computer, I'll ask their names and do a quick check on the county court website. That takes about 15 seconds and gives me a very good preliminary indication as to whether the tenant is ok or not. If they make it this far, then I'll show them the rental and subsequently do a complete screening.

Call it old school, but i have all tenants fill out an application before i even show them any property and we do it in person in my office. It really gives me the opportunity to get a feel for the tenant. I can usually tell right off if we are going to have problems or not.

MikeOH: how do you screen someone that's lived outside of the county? If you don't use the same screening process for every applicant, you're asking for trouble! If you conduct criminal background checks via your county web site, what do you do for someone that's moving in out of state? You better check their criminal background as well!

I haven't instituted the credit/criminal check because it's difficult to collect the fee and then conduct the actual checks. I'm currently using a checklist of steps to complete for each app. Some people get knocked out on step one, some make it to step six before I drop them. But they all go through the same process. And just as important, I keep that checklist on file with a specific, objective reason why I didn't rent to them. Even if I don't rent to them because the guy gives me the heebie-jeebies, I still find a specific, objective reason.

You can usually screen out the bottom of the barrel just by forcing them to fill out an application in your office, telling them it must be complete with references from prior landlords, and show them your screening process. If they're trying to hide something they'll go find an easier target!

Originally posted by MikeOH:
I start the screening on the phone! I don't want to waste time showing a rental to someone who can't pass my screening. So, I ask them who all will live there. Then, I tell them that I thoroughly screen everyone that will live there and I don't take anyone that has been evicted in the past 7 years; I don't take anyone that has a felony; I don't take anyone that has more than 2 misdemeanors in the past 3 years; or anyone that has any illegal drugs on their record in the past 7 years. If they tell me they will pass and I'm near my computer, I'll ask their names and do a quick check on the county court website. That takes about 15 seconds and gives me a very good preliminary indication as to whether the tenant is ok or not. If they make it this far, then I'll show them the rental and subsequently do a complete screening.

this is a good point. in the ads I run on craigslist and various other places I clearly state the screening process and the application fee. if someone calls in from a yard sign then I explain to them the screening process and the application fee.

So Mike is right, the screening process begins with the first contact with a prospective tenant. It definitely weeds out a lot of folks, but then again that's the purpose of the process isn't it?

I'm still learning how I can better refine this process but so far this seems to work OK.

Joe, if you can, would love to know the name of a service that's worked for you.

Mike, Edwin, Nathan, I appreciate your feedback too. This is pointing to how we've wasted time showing units to a few tenants we probably would have screened out. Lesson learned.

Nathan, you make a good point about having the same screening process.

Mike, laying it out upfront is a great idea.

Edwin and Nathan, I like the idea of the application right up front.

Joe, I replied before reading your last post. Screening at first contact is now going to be how we do it too. We were kind of doing it, but not on a consistent basis, and not following a process or specific questions.

MikeOH: how do you screen someone that's lived outside of the county? If you don't use the same screening process for every applicant, you're asking for trouble!


If they live in another county, then I pull up that county's website and do a quick screening on there. If the county doesn't have a website with court records available to the public, then I'll show then the property and do the normal screening (as I do with every tenant) after they fill out the application.

If you conduct criminal background checks via your county web site, what do you do for someone that's moving in out of state? You better check their criminal background as well!


Same answer - I just google the state and county court and look them up. It's not that hard. If they don't have a website, you can call the appropriate court or the local police and usually get your answer.

I haven't instituted the credit/criminal check because it's difficult to collect the fee and then conduct the actual checks.


The two most important screening checks I do are the criminal background and eviction checks - which are typically found on the same websites (same county databases).

Some people get knocked out on step one, some make it to step six before I drop them. But they all go through the same process. And just as important, I keep that checklist on file with a specific, objective reason why I didn't rent to them. Even if I don't rent to them because the guy gives me the heebie-jeebies, I still find a specific, objective reason.


I follow the same procedure for each tenant also. I screen them on the phone. If they pass that, I meet them at the property. Assuming that they look and act good enough for me to show them the unit, I then have them fill out an application and then do a thorough screening (full criminal background check, eviction check, previous landlords, employment, etc, etc, etc). As soon as I find something I don't like, I stop and write in big letters across the top of their application "REJECTED" and the reason. For example, I might write "REJECTED - CRIMINAL"; "REJECTED - EVICTION"; or "REJECTED - LIAR".

The phone screening has gotten me a couple of calls from the Fair Housing Office. In the latest incident, the local Fair Housing Officer called to inquire about a woman that I refused to rent to. It was clear on the phone that the woman was a minority. I got her name and did a quick check of court records like I always do. I found that she had been evicted more than 7 years ago, which would not automatically disqualify her since I don't take anyone that's been evicted in the past 7 years. However, I discovered that another person's name was also on the eviction record. I inquired as to who that was and it was her son. I checked her son and found that he had a LENGTHY CRIMINAL RECORD including being a drug scum. I told her that we didn't rent to druggies and that I wouldn't rent to her because of his record. She insisted that he wouldn't be living with her and I thought she was lying. I've seen that show before!!!

When the Fair Housing Officer called me, I told her the story and re-iterated that I didn't rent to druggies! I further told her that I didn't believe the woman's story about her son not living with her and that I don't allow druggies on my property!

It is NOT illegal; immoral; or improper to reject someone because they're a druggie. It is not illegal to deny someone because you think they're a liar; because they have inappropriate tattoes; because they dress like a gang-banger, etc. I have no tolerance for druggies, criminals, liars, gang-banger wannabes, or other scumbags and won't rent to them.

That's the end of the story. Everything I did was legal and proper. I knew that Fair Housing couldn't possibly pursue a fair housing claim against me because I don't discriminate for any of the prohibited reasons. In fact, if they had wanted to claim that I didn't rent to this woman because of her race, I would have taken the local Section 8 Chief with me to the hearing and she could explain how I've gone out of my way to place minority tenants for them (Section 8 contacted me for help) when the tenants were in a bad situation (but still met my screening). I would also have taken along a few of my minority tenants and they could tell the Fair Housing person that I don't have a racist bone in my body.

You can usually screen out the bottom of the barrel just by forcing them to fill out an application in your office


I got into the rental business so that I wouldn't have to sit in an office!!! The only office I have has four wheels and says "F-150" on the tailgate.

Originally posted by Taylor C:
Joe, I replied before reading your last post. Screening at first contact is now going to be how we do it too. We were kind of doing it, but not on a consistent basis, and not following a process or specific questions.


as far as who I use to physically run the credit/criminal history checks, I use a company called ScreeningWorks. They charge 30 bucks for the basic screening. All you need to do is collect some basic information on your application, collect the fee from the applicant and then you can go home and run the background checks on their website.

There's a ton of different sites you can do this, I just happened to like screeningworks site.

Originally posted by Edwin Brown:
Call it old school, but i have all tenants fill out an application before i even show them any property and we do it in person in my office. ...


In some cases this might work, but I will try to explain here why I don't do it this way.

I charge a NON-REFUNDABLE application fee sufficient to cover the payments I will incur to get the various screening reports (see MikeOH's earlier post for a good list). If the tenant hasn't yet seen the place, they don't even know whether they will like it or want it - so they will be reluctant to pay up front for an application fee until they think they want to rent that unit.

Now, if you aren't charging any application fee, or you make it refundable (two things I DON'T recommend), then maybe getting an application first can work.

Edwin, I'd be curious to hear how you work this.

Mike gave you the best advice. I do the same thing. I screen over the phone and run their names in the local court database to see their criminal history. I also ask them why they are moving from their current place. This is a MUST ASK. It tells you everything you need to know about the person. Problem tenants will start complaining about the landlord and all their issues, I love hearing these stories as I never to rent to these type of people. Decent people say things that aren't problematic. I also ask where they work, how long, who will live with them etc and verify this info from local court records to see how honest they are. If they pass this preliminary screening, only then will I make appointment to show the unit. I also stress over the phone the checks I will run on them and the application fee. When I meet them I also ask the same questions to see if they slip up and tell me something they didnt say over the phone, I try to gauge their personality by getting them talking. This has worked very well for me. One thing I overlooked that recently caused me issues was an elderly couple that seemed ok but had their children doing all the talking. This is how they deal with problems too, use their children, something I do not tolerate. Always prescreen over the phone and dont waste your time with people you dont get a good vibe from. A lot of time people dont want to answer my questions over the phone and I dont waste my time meeting with them.

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