How do I let applicants down, sincerely and professionally?

36 Replies

I have just purchased my second investment property and fortunately had a slew of applicants.  I had no issue sending correspondence to those who did not put applications in however I am having writers block when considering those who gave me money for the screening process and genuinely hoped to get good news.

I know this business takes thick skin, I don't have a problem delivering bad news.  This is relatively easy in terms of emotion, my issue is "what" to say.  I am really trying to consider everything that I do as a foundation for the future.  I want to conduct my business as close as possible to what it will be in 5 or 10 years so I put a lot of consideration in details like this one.  

Here is what I have told those who were interested but did not have the chance or chose not to put in an application yet:

"Hello there, we just found a renter for our home. Thank you for your interest and I apologize for any inconvenience!"

Any advice is great, thanks!

It's a great idea to have scale in mind now when you're smaller as opposed to trying to figure out your process when you're larger. 


There's no sense in saying you found a renter when you really haven't. It's not honest (unless you really did find a renter) and people will pick up on it. I'm guessing these are FRBO? There's nothing wrong with keeping it simple: you did not meet our criteria. This offers the most protection for you from a Fair Housing standpoint. 

@alex 

@Alex Smith , I did find a renter.  I am responding to everyone post open-house.  

I agree with your thoughts on the protection aspect, do you think people feel respected when you say that?  I'm really interested in return customers and creating a brand in Oklahoma.  I also don't want to contribute to the negative and distant thoughts that good people say about their landlords.

@Skyler Walker

You have the coolest name.

Which platform are you using for screening? I like to use Cozy.co as applicants do not send me money direct for screening but instead upload their payment to the website.

For applicants who do not qualify I respond by letting them know that they did not meet the criteria for renting the apartment. For me, this is easy to do because I post the criteria on a sheet I hand out during each showing (this will also deter unfit candidates from applying in the first place).

If you have to choose between applicants who are both qualified you can base your decision on who submitted the application first - in this case you can say something along the lines of  "Thank your application however, another candidate has been approved before your application was received". 

In the event where both applicants submit applications at the same time and one is more qualified then the other, you will have to be honest and let the candidate know as soon as possible that even though they qualify, you will not be renting to them. Document and explain your reasoning for why applicant A is a better fit, as Applicant B can come after you for discrimination if not properly justified.

I respond simply:

“Thanks xxx for your interest and application. Unfortunately, we have decided to go with another applicant. Good luck with your search!”

If their criteria is significantly worse, I’ll add ‘a more qualified candidate’, but I’ve decided to keep it typically generic.

I also have stopped having all applicants pay for the background/credit check. I have them apply and skip that section in Cozy, and tell them if it fits for both of us, we’ll ask for that. It adds an extra day into the process, but I now don’t feel bad rejecting good applicants since they didn’t pay for it. I use the checks as a verification of everything they said - I’ve already decided on them (as long as the checks come back clean)

I do realize that I’m renting to B/A class tenants, so your mileage may vary if you’re in the B-/C range.

@Skyler Walker Gotcha. I must have misunderstood what you said - sorry. 

I know most self-managing landlords on here will just say "you did not meet our criteria," and leave it at that. As a management company, we go into slightly more detail, telling them specifically what part of the criteria they did not meet. Most people will get why they were denied and it won't be a surprise. You won't be able to please everyone, unfortunately.

@Michael Craig

Thanks for the compliment!  

I appreciate the advice and it makes sense to give some specific feedback regarding the applicant, good thing I took notes during screening!

@Mike McCarthy ,

Yes I am currently looking at B-/C class tenants so I like to get the credit and background check before making any decisions or getting excited about who someone says they are.

@Alex Smith ,

I agree that you can't please everyone.  I am looking for info on what a management company might do so going slightly more into detail as you said, sounds like a good plan.  I will try that out and see how things go!

@Skyler Walker

You will find that qualified tenants appreciate the thorough screening process as they will feel more comfortable with who you will place as their future neighbor.

@Skyler Walker "Thank you for your interest in [address of property]. We have selected another applicant to move forward with. Thanks again, and let us know if you have any questions or concerns."

I would respond with something similar in an email to the applicant. As long as people knew going in that they would potentially be competing against each other for the rental then you shouldn't feel bad about this at all. Part of the buisness like you mentioned.

@Skyler Walker it is tough when you take money from someone, then tell them you selected a better applicant. That is just telling someone they are not good enough. 

We process one applicant at a time and rent to first qualified. We don't take money from the next person if we are processing the last person. Nobody can question that process. There are only three status:

1. Approved - Extend offer to rent.

2. Denied at this time - Give reason why at a very high level (Income, credit, etc.)

3. Next in line - Someone applied before you, but we would be happy to consider you if something changes

If someone didn't apply, then I would not send them anything unless they contact you about the property. Then tell them, "I am sorry it is already rented but if something changes or another property becomes available, I will get back in touch with you".

I get it if you want to build a contact list, in that case you could send a generic e-mail thanking them for their interest and asking them to reach out to you in the future if they are looking for a home.

Thanks @Joe Splitrock ,


Are you checking credit, debt to income, background immediately with your applicants?  I have blocks of, usually 2 hours where I am showing the home and may receive 5 serious applicants at a time or 0.  How do you maintain the ability to approve or deny applicants on a one-at-a-time basis?  I you don't mind me asking. 

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

@Skyler Walker it is tough when you take money from someone, then tell them you selected a better applicant. That is just telling someone they are not good enough. 

We process one applicant at a time and rent to first qualified. We don't take money from the next person if we are processing the last person. Nobody can question that process. There are only three status:

1. Approved - Extend offer to rent.

2. Denied at this time - Give reason why at a very high level (Income, credit, etc.)

3. Next in line - Someone applied before you, but we would be happy to consider you if something changes

If someone didn't apply, then I would not send them anything unless they contact you about the property. Then tell them, "I am sorry it is already rented but if something changes or another property becomes available, I will get back in touch with you".

I get it if you want to build a contact list, in that case you could send a generic e-mail thanking them for their interest and asking them to reach out to you in the future if they are looking for a home.

This is more or less our exact process. First qualified in, first into the house. We prequalify everyone before anyone spends a dime by having them complete our application online. If I can see from that application they wouldn't be a good fit for the house, I don't send them on to the "paid" credit/background/eviction application. I don't find it tasteful to have a bunch of people spending money to compete against each other. We process applications as they are received. If you are first, and you are prequalified, then pass the credit/background/income check, sign the lease and pay your fees you get the house. 

We work through that by never stopping the pipeline - continue collecting pre-applications - so if someone doesn't pass the credit/background part, or they don't sign the lease, or they don't pay their fees, we are still moving forward. Once the lease is sent to them they get 24 hours to sign and another 24 hours to get payment set up before we open up the process to the next interested applicant. We have found that some tenants will try to use properties as "in their pocket" while they look at other places, so that if they happen to find a place they like better they just move on to it. We stick to the time limit to prevent this from occurring. If someone finds something they like better in a day or two, no harm no foul to us - we just move on to the next application. But if you let someone take days or weeks to sign and then pay, you lose possible good applicants. 

Once we have a successful applicant, we e-mail those that did not get selected - they're not out any money - and if we have anything open or about to come open let them know about it so that they have a chance to maybe secure something before it hits the market. I have a home that's about to turn in 2 weeks that rented without ever hitting the market - tenants saw one of our other homes and were beat out by another applicant who was just faster. We let them know and gave them two addresses of upcoming homes. They drove by and loved one of the other homes, which was a better fit for them anyway. They've already signed the lease, and in fact made a deal with the current tenant to buy half of their furniture!

In my mind, if you don't take money from the applicants, you really don't owe them anything more than a sincere thanks for their interest. If I took money from everyone, I would refund those that didn't make the cut. 

Originally posted by @Skyler Walker :

Thanks @Joe Splitrock,


Are you checking credit, debt to income, background immediately with your applicants?  I have blocks of, usually 2 hours where I am showing the home and may receive 5 serious applicants at a time or 0.  How do you maintain the ability to approve or deny applicants on a one-at-a-time basis?  I you don't mind me asking. 

As @JD Martin mentioned, you want to pre-qualify. We do this at several points in the process. It starts in our listing. We state 3X rent for household income is required. We state responsible credit history and verifiable employment. When someone wants to apply, we give them the high level qualification standards, so it is another chance for them to self-screen. We then let them apply and only direct them to submit for credit after we do a high level review of the application. I don't call and verify employment or references, because at that point we assume they are telling the truth. When they submit for credit pull, they pay money directly to the service. Then we review credit report before verifying employment or references. If someone is going to be denied on credit, no reason wasting my time calling references. We try to focus on one tenant at a time, but when multiple applicants come in, we tell the 2nd, 3rd, etc that we are processing another application first. I also tell them there is no guarantee the first one will be approved. My last vacancy we turned down three before we approved one. That is pretty typical. 

@JD Martin When you do the 24 hour turn around, how do you get the lease to them and receive the money? Do you just email it and have them pay online? We are a tight market here and I've had people take my apartment and then back out 2-3 days later because they found something "closer to work". I tell them within 48 hours I need the retainer to hold it but they always take longer because they are out of town or whatever.

@Skyler Walker You have gotten a lot of great information here. I will add that I first review applications and then send them the email for SmartMove. I only have them pay then on the website for the credit/background check because I have approved them to move further in the process. People can get REALLY upset if they are paying you money and don't get the place just because someone better came around. If they don't make it through the application process I just let them know that I have chosen a more qualified applicant at this time and wish them the best in finding an apartment. 

I will also add that Facebook is a really good screening tool as well.

@Jennifer Rysdam I haven't heard of SmartMove, do they do any pre-screening for you or is it just a site to facilitate screening and payment only?  I definitely use Facebook to pre-screen as I use the marketplace to help market my properties.  Facebook is by far my largest source of traffic and has booked every property I have.  I do operate in the B-/C class, so I think they go together well.

@Joe Splitrock I like the "self screening", definitely gonna try that out on the next one.  I had some bad traffic on this last property and it took a lot of time getting through every interested person.  I use roughly the same standard so posting it on the ad won't be much of a change.  I guess that's all that can be done before taking someones money and running their credit and background... it just seems like a lot of people embellish their credit and income so it's hard not to just check it myself.  I like to verify the applicant makes 3x the rent but I also like to see a total household income that shows a max of 2/3 debt to income, including the monthly rent.  Do you have your applications filled online or in person?

@Matt P.  Thank you?

@Skyler Walker you are right that people over state income and credit so you need to check those things. My point was that I don’t verify on first pass. Then I have them submit for credit. I review credit report and if that looks good, then I contact employer. The order is just to save my time. Most my rejections are based on the credit report.

My goal is to reduce the number or showings and applications to pre screen out the bad ones. I have had people say, “I don’t meet income guidelines but can I look at it anyways?” People are happy to waste your time if you let them.

@Skyler Walker I really like the question, something that I ran into myself. You really want to make sure not to say anything that could possible put you in a bad spot legally. We say something simple enough to "Hello xxx, we appreciate your interest and the time you took to see the property. Unfortunately upon review of your application and screening you do not meet our minimum criteria and we will be continuing to look for other renters. Thank you again and good luck with your search." Sometimes we receive questions back about what criteria they didn't meet. We try to answer all of these as professionally as possible but usually that is sufficient.

@Jennifer Rysdam

We use only electronic leases, so that part is easy. On payment we are little more flexible with options. Renter can deposit cash directly into our business account set up for this purpose; they can get payment set up on the online portal (we use Cozy) and then they have several options for how to pay; or we can email them a direct invoice for payment through Square, which will include a processing fee.

In other words, they really have no excuse for not signing the lease or making immediate payment. Once they pass the credit/background check, and we email the lease, if they haven't opened it or signed it within 24 hours we continue with the next application. Same thing with payment once they have signed. So at most we are only 2 days from moving to the next applicants, and we never stop showing nor taking applications until lease is signed and money is in the bank.

Dear applicant . I regret to say we found another tenant because when you showed up to the viewing last Saturday you had a nasty tattoo on your forehead , random piercings in your lips and snout plus you sported yellow rotten teeth which repulsed me . You had a crusty mustard stain on your shirt .You also stunk like cheap booze and cigarettes . Once you left we looked on your Facebook profile and saw you bragging about smoking dope clockin G’s and bangin ho’s .we also noticed in your pictures a snarling half breed pit bull in the background . We can not allow Waste-oid. losers of your caliber in our fine rentals so we are voting you off the island . You sir are the weakest link - good bye

@Skyler Walker , personally I don't allow myself to be put in this position.  

I find it unprofessional and selfish when managers or landlords take multiple applicants money for background checks when they're not the lead candidate.  I'll do my first reviews and whomever I decide is my top candidate I will have them pay the application fee.

It's not uncommon for B/C tenants to submit multiple applications and if they had to do that for $50 each time that hurts them financially.  I prefer to be transparent with them and say we received X number of applicants and will be asking the top candidate to pay for a screening report.  Often they respect you more for that truth.  I don't tell the next candidates anything until I know the status of the lead applicant.

If you're a business person, consider this the lean model.

@Kenny Dahill

I am definitely headed in that direction for my future applicants.

I assume you (or someone that works for you) are showing the home to those that have shown interest.  Are you having them fill out the application at showing and based upon your findings, contact who you would like to conduct a background/credit check on?

Also, are you showing the home per appointment or open house?