First time landlord here. Curious what each of you screen a potential tenant for:
Also interested in recommendations on which services to use for this, and whether you pass the cost along to the applicant each time.
@Jason Sensi I’ve used Cozy (now apartments.com) for the application and screening process (and rent collection too). They make it easy, and the cost is paid by the applicant.
I tell my applicants to not pay for the background/credit checks at first. We review their application, then use the checks as a final double-check after we’ve almost approved them. I hate the idea of a tenant paying for those checks if they were going to end up 2nd or 3rd in the tenant process anyway.
@Mike McCarthy thanks Mike. I’m going to investigate Cozy. Sounds like a pretty comprehensive tool.
Cozy will not give you the SSN on the report since they use a 3rd party.
If possible, try to get their SSN in some part of the application process (Eg: create another supplemental form where the tenant has to enter the SSN). You'll never know if you might need it. Of course, check if your state/city legally allows this.
Transunion mysmartmove has been what I have used in the past. $40 full report payed directly to the site by the prospective tenant so you never have to handle money. I would recommend.
I second MySmartMove.com. Create a landlord account and enter details for each property listing you are managing. Once the applicant(s) has been approved by you based on preliminary criteria, you enter their email in to the listing and the site will send the applicant(s) an email link to complete MySmartMove form. Reports get sent directly to you.
I ask my tenants to fill out an NTN form, the cost is $40 per applicant, co applicants are free (up to +1). It checks for criminal history, credit, and runs a search on their past addresses.
Aside from this, I check the last 2 months bank statements and 2 previous tax returns, and call their past 3 landlords (DO NOT JUST CALL THEIR CURRENT ONE, I see lots of people do this mistake, if they're problem tenants their current landlord would be more than happy to say they're great tenants so he can unload them on you). Lastly, I'll ask them to give me a screenshot of their credit karma reports to confirm with the NTN report as a final safety measure.
This strategy has worked flawlessly for me so far:
Here's an NTN sample from one of my rentals:
Hi @Jason Sensi !
Bigger Pockets actually offers tenant screening on their site through a trusted partner! There is quite the variety of options available for screening packages; tenant involvement/no tenant involvement, instant reports, hand-compiled reports, and income verification too. There is also options for tenants to pay directly.
You can find further information by going to Tenant Screening under the Tools tab.
Best of luck to you!
After doing property management and owning our own properties as well, I would honestly say that the biggest thing you can do to have a smooth landlord experience is to screen the tenants into oblivion.
I do not trust that the computer screening is going to give an accurate depiction.
For example, maiden names or if the prospective tenant messes with their own name it won't allow you to see their public records or evictions. Also, some counties (not to mention States) are not very forthcoming with their eviction or court history. When you do a computer based screening, if it can't get access quickly and easily it will skip it and say: "No records found" which leads you to believe there aren't any evictions when in fact there may have been 5 but the screening honestly couldn't find them.
We check id and use that, not just what was scribbled down on the application
We run the computer based screening (We use rentecdirect for our property management/screening and quickbooks for accounting)
This will normally give you a list of former addresses.
We then go to those county courthouses and do a manual search utilizing maiden names and just initials along with birth dates in case the court house misspelled something (This happens often)
This also helps with past lawsuits by former apartment complexes. Yes, the tenant may have left and not been evicted but they left the place trashed and owing several months rent and were then sued by a former landlord. This will not necessarily come up on a computer screening as well.
We only check their credit in so far as their living expenses are paid. If they have a recent divorce, student loans or medical bills it can give them a bad credit score that does not give the true picture. So I highly recommend going with a company that will not just give you a score, but the actual items on the credit report. We look at unpaid electric bills differently than unpaid medical bills.
I would also check on their social media presence if you are worried about pets. They won't put an aggressive dog on their application but they will put it on facebook along with its 12 puppies and that they have decided to keep 4 of them.
It takes a little longer to find a tenant, but figure out your process and stick to it.
In 15 years and hundreds of houses and thousands of families including going through a global pandemic...I've had to do less than a dozen evictions total over the years. 85% of those were 'inherited' tenants, in that we took over management with the tenants there that were placed by a different management company.
Hope this helps.