HELP! First time screening tenants

26 Replies

This is my first rental in a B/B+ 4bd/2.5ba area asking 2k rent. 2k deposit.  Pet friendly.  No evictions. No felonies. Owner pays trash, water, utilities. Responsible for mow and snow.

Using mysmartmove to screen.

I've been getting some showings and taking phone calls of interested parties.  So far my first showing the people gave off a weird vibe..they didn't ask for an app and I didn't offer.  Boyfriend and girlfriend just moved to area. She has a kid and he has 3.

2nd party is two sisters and their elderly mom.  Very nice people.  Seemed genuine.  Have been 7 year tenants at their current place but owner is selling.  She's been very upfront and mentioned a bankruptcy a while back.  (didn't specify how long ago).  Emailed her an app.  And will need to get one from the sister as well.

Another party is boyfriend selling the house nearby.  He has 2 kids.  Girlfriend doesn't have any.  Seemed ok on the phone but gave me the line "we've already applied a few places and they were a little small for us but we've passed all the background checks and credit I just want you to know we're qualified"  I'll still run their information if they take an app but that line gave me a bad vibe.

TLDR: I expected a lot more married couples or individuals to apply.  What is the best way to handle multiple adults with no real legal obligation to each other when screening?  My biggest concern: the combined income they qualify (3x rent) but individually they don't and a breakup means big time problems collecting rent.  

Updated about 2 years ago

EDIT: TENANT pays water, trash, utilities, mow and snow.

All valid concerns. I would keep taking applications until you get someone that best qualifies. That way you can't be accused of discrimination. I like to get a larger deposit than 1 months rent so that I am better protected if things go south. Things always start off great...

You can mitigate the issues with multiple adults but putting them on the lease. At that point they're liable for the unit and if they moved out prior to lease conclusion they are on the hook for it. 

As your unit is a four bed/2.5 baths, you will definitely attract more families rather than individuals who rent with roommates. 2-3 beds tend to attract the latter rental group and with the larger amounts of beds and baths, that's more appealing to a larger family renter.

First couple is obviously out - too many people and it does not seem like they're qualified. I think the two next candidates are fine. I would not scrutinize everything people say so much, they were single setting the tone to you that they're qualified and are not just browsing at units. 

Ultimately the two things that would matter to me once background/credit/eviction has been cleared is that the # of tenants in each unit is low and that their income level exceeds 3x rule. For my Boston area rentals I screen them with 4x income but I understand that's a higher earning area in general. 

Another way to weed out the browsers and not serious renters is telling them that there's an application fee for the unit to put towards background/eviction/credit check. That $35/40 expense will deter all the tire kickers and allow you to speak to people who really want to pull the trigger. 

@John Underwood good point.  I made the mistake of over the phone I think mentioning 1 months rent deposit.  Can I tell them that it's actually 2 months now?

@Lien Vuong I wouldn't say I've gotten tire kickers quite yet.  Especially for my first time I don't mind seeing what's out there, if you will.  That being said a couple zillow requests have simply just asked for an application, (no showing, no generic questions) so I haven't responded to that at all.  

I couldn't agree with you more in that "that the # of tenants in each unit is low". 

@Patrick M. You should be able to change until you have signed a lease. I personally would charge 1.5x the rent for the deposit or charge 1st, last and deposit equal to only 1 months rent.

@John Underwood is this in all cases or geared more towards the girlfriend/boyfriend scenario?  Lastly if you're requirements become a moving target is that "discrimination" or am I reading too much into this? 

Originally posted by @Patrick M. :

@John Underwood is this in all cases or geared more towards the girlfriend/boyfriend scenario?  Lastly if you're requirements become a moving target is that "discrimination" or am I reading too much into this? 

 Patrick, If you have concerns either don't rent to them or get a larger deposit or add in last months rent. I would define your criteria and not have a moving target. You can always update your criteria when needed  but I would not have it moving back and forth. That is the equivalent of not having defined criteria.

The biggest mistake new landlords make is relying on their gut. You are trying to evaluate them based on your senses and their living situation, when you should be using their credit reports and employment.

Every tenant who ever broke a lease on me was married, so your fear of roommates (properly screened) is unfounded in my experience.

Just have all adult occupants submit application and credit report. Average the credit score of applicants and total household income is used for qualification. No bankruptcies in the last year.

But ultimately until someone applies, it is not worth even thinking about. Be patient and wait for the right applicant, instead of trying to justify the wrong applicant. It takes me about 2 weeks to find someone for a house, then I often get two applications at the same time. 


@Patrick M.
My wife and I have always only taken security deposit and 1 month's rent.  Granted, we probably could and should take more.  A lot of tenants are waiting to get their security deposit back from the previous tenant. We believe the quality tenant always makes the best tenant.  I would even rather get $100-$150 less a month if it means the right tenant takes care of things and never needs you because they are responsible to fix things on their own. That being said, the two musts are call their references (employment and landlords).  Never rely on the current landlord who a lot of times is happy to see them leave so they will tell you what you want to hear just to get them out. Go back 2 landlords.....you want to speak to that one who is not in the picture anymore and can be really honest. Secondly, go back 2 employers as well!!!  And with both employers, don't just verify that they work there and if what they say they make is true.  Ask them questions like, do they show up to work on time, how do they interact with their co-workers, do they finish tasks, are they responsible? I always look at tenants this way, if you don't trust them to drive your car without you in it, why in the world would you let them have the rights to live in your 100K, 200k, 300k, etc. house? I like what @Joe Splitrock said, never try to justify the wrong applicant. We always like to meet people at the showings and get a feel for them.  We then hand them applications based on the energy regarding really liking the house.  We ask them to take it home, fill it out, and email it back ASAP if they want the be considered.  That is our little test. The ones who really want it and are best for the house will have it in my inbox guaranteed within 2 hours.   We did interviews this past weekend and found our tenant that first day....even though others were qualified.  We are always looking for that relationship between landlord and tenant because we want someone who wants to nest and also knows that we are there for them as well.  I think the biggest decision to make regarding a tenant is not so much what you see on paper or who you see in front of you.  It is what you cannot see....that is where you want to reduce any liabilities. Be a great landlord Patrick and be a blessing to others!

@Patrick M. Yup that’s renters! It largely could be the area your renting in, but there’s nearly always something like that... be patient and always check references

Another suggestion for families with adult siblings, parents and siblings is to see if they are all living together now.  Sometimes they are trying to dump one of the non-responsible siblings/relatives on someone else.  They would feel guilty if the person was put out on the streets as homeless, but they really won't all be living there either.  Make sure you can verify that they are all leaving their existing home if they currently live together.   IF mom owns the house they are moving from, she may be dumping the adult kid on you.  Meet and check out each person.

@Chris Anderson thanks for the thorough write up. This provides a lot of clarity. I will be sure to call previous landlords and definitely verify employment/income.

I’ve also ordered paper applications. I was going to do it all online but it sounds like the paper application route is a good test that a lot of successful landlords implement.

Really appreciate your insight

@Lynnette E. Over a phone interview I told a prospect that her 19 year old son will need to submit a background check and credit check as well. She’s seemed a little stumped at first but agreed (over the phone). 18 and over need to submit a background and credit check.

@Patrick M.

so has anyone actually submitted an app? until they submit an app, there is nothing for you to do but continue showing the property.

I have had dozens of potential clients say they were going to submit an app, but I never heard from them. don't go by what people say but by what they do. once you receive an app, put it through your process, every app goes through the same process. if you have a qualified app, but barely, require additional security deposit. set up your requirements and follow them. one thing I do is when advertising a property, I never pick up the phone, but I text or email the initial contact with a list of my requirements. that will weed out the tire kickers. if you talk on the phone, it is difficult to remember all your requirements.

@Curtis Mears thanks for response. no apps yet. I’ve read so many articles about screening before, even getting an app that I was trying to figure out how to make that all work.

I have some of the criteria posted online without scaring people away and have been doing phone calls. In this market with limited decent options I think people will say/type whatever it takes to at least get a showing.

Once I get an app obviously I’ll find out more or if they were telling the truth from the phone call.

When you are new at this it gets exciting to show your property to possible tenants. Over time you will get to the point where you show it to people and then forget about them. They will tell you all sorts of things, but most will just walk away. I had one family that wanted to pay rent and deposit right there on the spot - cash! I told them they'd have to fill out applications first and do the background and credit checks. They all 3 took applications and disappeared. Lots of shady and unorganized people out there.
One thing that has helped me a ton is a website. I have a page for each unit and when that unit is available I'll make that page visible on the site. Everyone can see all of the pictures of the unit and see all of my rules and requirements. They can also click on the link and fill out an application. It's just a word document that they can then email to me. I direct everyone to the website. If they can't get to the website, read it, fill out the application, and figure out how to get it to me via the email address provided then they probably aren't that interested in it. Once I get the application and check the references I'll show them the apartment. If they still are interested at that point I do the credit/background check. Our market is very tight and people have a hard time finding a place, so most don't even care to see it, they just want it. Mine are some of the nicest ones in the area because I've remodeled them. I feel like I give them enough information on the website that I can do it this way. 

@Patrick M.

when I advertise a property, I try to streamline the initial 1st contact as I often will have 50 or more inquiries into the property. even though i list all requirements in the ad, most people seem to ignore it. in order to dave my time and theirs, ii simply use a cut and paste for all inquiries into my properties. this applies to a text,voice mail or email. I will text or email the following to everyone this insuring I have given each potential tenant the same info

Thank you for contacting me regarding (property name). We do have some minimum requirements for tenets. They are: verifiable income of $4,650 per month, good reference for previous housing history, pass a credit check, a clean criminal record, and no previous evictions. If you meet these requirements, then please contact me for an appointment. The home is available to view immediately. 

@Patrick M. 4-bedroom houses can be tough to rent sometimes because if a family has two kids, they probably would just look for a 3-bedroom and not really see value in the 4th bedroom and the increased rent if they have no need for it. That is probably why you are getting these types of parties being interested in your house. 

With that said, I wouldn't really spend the time giving anyone any thought who has viewed the place or verbally told you they were going to apply until after they actually take the time to apply. Then just evaluate based on your minimum screening criteria from there. If the applicant checks most of the boxes, but aren't 100% ideal then just take more of a deposit to mitigate the perceived risk. 

@Michael Noto could always change the ad to 3 bd and office! haha.  I'm shifting more to the "nothing matters until you have a completed ap" mindset.  Appreciate the input

@Patrick M. Sounds like you are learning a lot and gaining a great deal of education in the ins & outs of showing & screening tenants. 

I would suggest you codify your criteria by writing it down. Having written criteria you follow would probably cover you if you got a complaint for discrimination, etc.  And most definitely, it will change and grow as you get more experience. 

This wouldn't seem to be applicable in this particular case, but my criteria for multiple tenants, 3 or more is any combination of 2 of the tenants must equal my Income criteria. For example: 3 tenants. A+B must equal the Income Criteria. A+C must equal the Income Criteria. B+C must equal the Income Criteria. You are not likely to have a 3-way breakup of tenants. If any of those combinations don't add up - it's an NO GO! Most likely it will be one of three moving out, etc.

Good luck, be patient, Don't settle - find the tenants you are looking for if your market permits, keep learning & progressing. 



Originally posted by @Jim Cummings :

@Jennifer Rysdam. Love your website idea. Would you mind posting a link or if you prefer send to me off forum. 

 Hi Jim. I had put the website link on the post but it must have gotten removed. It's hardwickplace . com (no spaces)