Landlording Tip: Screen Your Tenants


toilet.jpgI realize that this is a very basic tenet, but when times are rough, we don’t always follow it. The reason we screen tenants is to ensure that we, as landlords, will be paid, and that our property will not be damaged or destroyed.

What happens when the market is slow and you can’t find a tenant?

I’ve gone through periods where some of my units have gone months without being occupied. There were some applications, but I turned them down after screening them. Why? These tenants would have resulted in more work from me and my lawyer.

You don’t have to evict a tenant you don’t have!

It is always tempting during slow periods to drop your tenant standards, but that is what can get you in trouble. Avoid the temptation and continue to market your rentals. You’re better off taking a small loss then a huge one later.

The three most important things to look at when screening tenants are:

  • Credit Report – Does the applicant have many of their accounts overdue? Do they pay their bills on time? This is a good indication of whether or not they will pay rent on time as well.
  • Rental History – Contact previous landlords. Why did the tenant move? Did they damage the property? Did they pay rent on time? Were they “problem” tenants?
  • Employment history – Does the applicant have a job? Can they hold a job down?

If you focus on these three points and do your homework, you will not have to worry about evictions or problem tenants. They will never get the chance to rent from you in the first place.

Note: This is not a perfect system, but neither is life!

BTW – If you’re looking for a great tenant screening service, for getting credit checks, rental history, criminal checks, and more, check out SmartMove.

About Author

Joshua Dorkin

Joshua Dorkin (@jrdorkin, Google+) founded when he saw a need for free, trustworthy information about real estate investing online. Over the past 12 years, Josh has grown the site from self-funded hobby to full-time job and passion. Today, BiggerPockets brings together over 600,000 members, housing the world’s largest library of real estate content, iTunes’ #1 real estate podcast, and an array of analysis tools, all geared toward helping users succeed.


  1. One other point. I’m the MGP of a 50+ unit Section 8 (only) bldg, for which we have professional management.

    Every prospective tenant (and others the tenant wishes to live in the unit) takes a drug test, and we have the right to request a re-test on each renewal. A positive result means no lease, or no renewal – no exceptions. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. (Check the rules/laws in your location before you insitute these tests.)

  2. I’m a small portfolio landlord from UK.
    I’ve had a few problem tenants but i’m now slowly learning to not be so lenient on them and to take action as soon as they are late.

    they always hae some excuse and they don’t make any effort to pay you. they could for instance sell half the stuff in the house. take on extra jobs etc. etc.

    i agree that tenant screening is very important, we can’t afford to cut corners there.

  3. If you end up with having a wrong tenant, not only your house would be in ruins but also your health. The pressure tension and stress that comes along is inexplicable. You end up in spending huge sums of money with wrong tenant. I am telling all this out of the practical experience that I had a few years back. Make sure that his financial capability is really good before entering into the agreement.

  4. My only question is about “contacting previous landlords.” Would they tell the truth about bad tenants, or would they give a glowing review just so they could get rid of them? I’m always leery of references for this reason.

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