Tenant Screening question

18 Replies


We have a recently empty apartment. We have showed the apartment to so many people. Most love it. But I have yet to have anyone agree to fill out the online Smartmove application. It is a $35 per adult. I’m not quite sure why everyone has refused to do this online application. I’m starting to think every landlord in West Haven CT are screening an easier way. A lot of these people seem like a good fit for us. 

Any other options on screening tenants will be greatly appreciated. 



Are other landlords charging a $35 app fee? I know in some markets it is standard. If I tried it in my market I'd never fill a single vacancy. Make sure you aren't alienating prospects by hitting them with fees that they wouldn't face elsewhere. 

@Ryan Murdock thats what we are thinking. I dont think other landlords are charging a $35 fee. We are trying to figure out other ways to acreen tenants. That are less costly

@Tony Velez

I encourage prospects to submit apps at no charge. I'll give the apps a quick review and if nothing jumps off the page at me as a disqualifier, I then require the full security deposit from the applicant in order to move to the next step of actually running paid credit/criminal history checks. 

If after running the formal screening process I decide to deny the applicant I refund their deposit in full and I eat the cost of the screening. If I approve them, they risk losing that deposit if they simply change their mind. All of this is made clear in writing at the time they give me the deposit. I've previously used the same process but refunded the deposit MINUS whatever it cost me for the screening. Both worked well and eliminated the hassle and expense of running paid checks on every tire kicker. 

See what works best in your market and obviously be certain in complies with any local regulations you have.

We don't charge an application fee, per se, but we require tenants to do a background and credit check, which costs them $35. We let prospective tenants know that the first qualified tenant who signs a lease will get that fee credited back on their first month's rent. Hasn't been an issue for us, but many landlords in our area charge an application fee.

@Tony Velez We fill many apartments per month in the New Haven and Hartford Connecticut markets and charge a $30 application fee per adult. 

Never had anyone complain. I do not think your application fee is an issue. 

You just may be getting people who know they wouldn’t qualify and are choosing to not apply because of that. 

Michael Noto, Real Estate Agent in CT (#RES.0799665)

@Tony Velez That's a good question man! I don't think you should be getting discouraged so easily though. It all depends on your market, and where/how you are marketing the property. You didn't say what class the apartment was and how large or small your building is so knowing that would help us give you more detailed and informed advice that is more applicable to your situation. I would say that maybe they know they won't qualify and are just looking elsewhere. Don't beat yourself up I would much rather go through 100 no's to find that great tenant than have 100 people apply and find out they won't work out for one reason or another. They are really just saving you time and stress by not applying. One thing I will say is I believe your first mistake is showing the apartment without having any structure in place. Most successful people speak to the possible tenants and let them know of their criteria ahead of time and the cost of an application and background check. Ask them if they will qualify with these requirements, this will weed out many people. Then schedule showings all at once and have several people go. This will not only save you time but create a sense of competition between the possible tenants. Just keep asking questions on here and be honest and do what's right man! Quality pictures online will also bring better quality applicants so make sure your pictures look professional! Don't always blame yourself when things aren't going your way because to me it sounds like you just haven't found qualified tenants.

@Michael Guzik thanks for the positive vibes. We have a triplex in a B/C class area. The entire street are home owners. Ours is the only rental. The street is a nice, clean and quiet neighborhood. Close knit. Our last tenants we had to evict. What a nightmare they caused us and the neighbors. We rented to an elderly couple, who moved in there grandaughter and grandkids! They were not nice people

It's not easy to fill apartments in Feb. around here so hang in there.

Originally posted by @Tony Velez :


We have a recently empty apartment. We have showed the apartment to so many people. Most love it. But I have yet to have anyone agree to fill out the online Smartmove application. It is a $35 per adult. I’m not quite sure why everyone has refused to do this online application. I’m starting to think every landlord in West Haven CT are screening an easier way. A lot of these people seem like a good fit for us. 

Any other options on screening tenants will be greatly appreciated. 



 Maybe they don't like the online application. I have a paper application that I keep in my files with their signature. I charge a $40 app fee and it has never been an issue. I use residentresearch.com to run the background check.

Before they even reply to a response from an ad some people have already checked FB, state & county court records and the sex offender registry.  It takes less than 2 minutes I have heard.

Maybe do the research to bookmark these sites in your state so you can do it quickly.

I've also heard that asking questions in your for rent ad that need to be answered helps, too.  Because of extensive pre-screening, my app fees are lower than anywhere I know of in my market.  $25 for single, $15 for an additional adult.  So a couple would be $40.  If I brought the application with me, it's on paper and they receive it right there.

You are charging $70 and making them put their critical info into the ether.  Maybe it's a combination of high app fee, online security concerns and that they aren't really qualified to begin with.  Tire kickers that would waste your time if they did apply @Tony Velez   

Also not the best time of year as you know.  I just filled a vacancy Feb 9.  Normally I would have had 30+ inquiries in a matter of hours. I only had 4 in 2 days, but one was great so the result was the same.  

My best advice when I see these posts.....STOP CALLING IT AN APPLICATION FEE.......do your prescreen by letting everyone know what your qualification requirements are.....if they feel like they meet them, let them fill out an application FOR FREE..... if it looks good and they want to move forward, then there is a $35 fee to run the background check and credit check

The fee is for a background and credit check....not an application.....and the person only pays it if they want to move forward and your initial screen of their application doesn't drop them off the "maybe" list

I always charge the cost of the credit and background....no mark up.....and its nonrefundable......I'm not losing $$ if your info tells me you don't qualify, or you change your mind......

I think the first thing you need to find out is what everyone else is charging.  And do the same.  I like the idea that   @Ryan Murdock   said.  If you are having trouble getting them to commit, run the credit and background after they have passed all other prescreening checks i.e. proof of income, minimum income. You would be surprised by the number of people who only make 1.5 to 2 x rent and think that they can afford your apartment. Also, you may not want to burn $35 for every tire kicker that walks through the unit, so getting the deposit shows commitment (if it is customary or law NOT to charge a background check fee).

I also like @Steve Vaughan suggestion to do all of the free checks you can.  Find out what free databases you have access to.  Some landlords luck out and have access to eviction and criminal records for free or low costs.

I have met a lot of people who don't want to pay the application fee in my area, however, it is customary for the tenant to do so.  What I have found out is that when most prospects hear "credit" check, they get scared and move on.  I make sure to let them know that I could care less about an overdue medical bill and that my focus (depending on asset class of the unit) is on past due landlords and utility bills. 

I agree with most of the other responses.

It is difficult to find tenants in February.

I tell everyone who is interested in looking at the apartment what I am looking for in a tenant, I schedule a bunch of people to view it at one time, and I have people who are interested fill out applications. I do a preliminary check by calling to verify their employment and references. I chose from the applications the best fit and then I send them I link through SmartMove and they pay for the background check.

I am as upfront as possible about not renting to people with evictions, high debt, etc. Usually, people who don't qualify will not even fill out an application and most don't pay for the background check. I did have one guy apply and pay for everything and I found out he doesn't have a job. When I told him he couldn't rent the apartment because he didn't have a job he told me "I understand. Please don't tell me friends that you denied me because I don't have a job." I said OK, but I was laughing on the inside, because I didn't even know the guy let alone any of his friends. 

In short, keep the application fee and keep looking. You will get someone!

I own a Mobile Home Park and rent out one Mobile Home. I do an application for each adult.  Then use Smart one for the background/credit check. $40 per adult. I tell them that this is paid directly to their website, not to me.  

If that all checks out. Its $250 entrance fee and first three months free for Lot Rent. 

Rental is $800 month. F/L/S ($2400) to move in, I didn't get a lot of takers for the rental at this price. 

I have my application on my website. They can print it and hand it to me or take pics and text it to me, or they can just fill it out on Word or Google Docs and email it to me. I make it clear that if their references check out on their application that I'll then send them an email with a link to SmartMove where they will pay the fee for the credit/background check. I'm very clear on my website about what the expectations are for them. I also let them know that if they get approved and move in that I will deduct the cost of the credit/background check from the first month's rent when they sign the lease. That way if they are serious, and honest, they'll get refunded when they move in. If they are lying to me and fail the background check then they are out the fee.

Hi Tony, 

I always recommend charging an application fee for screening a tenant. Without a fee, renters are most likely applying in multiple places and that could result in you wasting your time showing and screening a renter, who ultimately won't end up renting from you. Time is money, and I think requiring an application fee ensures you aren't wasting your time. 

My suggestion would be to reimburse your tenant the application fee once they move in (if most landlords in your area aren't charging an application fee). In addition, maybe your price point, qualifications, or security deposit could be what's concerning tenants? It's absolutely worth looking into. 

Good luck! 

@Tony Velez I agree with most of the advice above. I don't live too far from you and I charge a $30 application fee. Many landlords in this area charge around that price point so that's not the issue. Prospective tenants often tell me that they're going to apply but they never do. I don't sweat it because I believe that they didn't apply because they already knew that they wouldn't qualify. Thus, saving me time and effort. 

Remember that it's February and you may just have a lot of tire kickers that are "Just looking" for now and they won't be serious until springtime. There could be a multitude of reasons that they're not applying but I highly doubt that it's your fee or that fact that you have an "online application". 

@Tony Velez

We pre-screen our applicants. I won't show an apartment unless I'm reasonably sure they will qualify and I always tell them about our $40.00 application fee up front before we schedule a showing. Saves us a lot of time and hassle.