Screening and qualifying applicants for your rental properties are two of the most important things a landlord can do.
Many of the problems that landlords complain about, such as nonpayment of rent, excessive damage to a property, etc, can often be remedied by not letting potentially bad tenants in your property in the first place. Your screening and qualifying process should involve checks on a potential tenant’s income, job history, credit history, criminal history, etc.
When a potential tenant has applied to rent one of your rental units, you have a legal obligation not to be discriminatory in your qualifying of that application. Usually if the applicant is accepted as a tenant, there is no problem, but what about the applicants that get turned down? These applicants are your potential problems and are the ones that have to be handled a bit more carefully.
Let’s look at the process every landlord should have in place to protect themselves when reviewing and qualifying tenant applications.
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Develop Rental Qualifying Criteria
The first step in qualifying tenant applicants is to develop a set of tenant qualifying criteria.
These criteria can include items such as minimum credit score, minimum income, eviction history, criminal history, smoking, pets, etc. Your local market conditions and preferences will determine what your criteria should be. Be aware however that your criteria cannot include anything related to the seven federally protected classes which are race, gender, familial status, age, color, national origin and religion.
Whatever tenant screening criteria you select, write them down and place them in a file. You may need them later on if you ever get accused of being discriminatory in your application and qualifying procedures.
Evaluate Every Applicant Using Your Qualifying Criteria
Does the applicant meet your minimum credit score?
Do they have enough income to afford the rent? Have they ever been evicted or filed bankruptcy? Do they have a criminal past? Do they have a pet? Were they rude to you?
Develop a checklist to rank applicants against your criteria. Use that same checklist for every applicant and keep them on file.
What To Do With Those You Deny
If you choose to deny an applicant, it is best if you communicate with them why they were denied.
This communication can be verbal at first, but you should follow up with something written. For example, if they were denied due to poor credit history, write them a letter explaining such and directing them to the appropriate credit reporting agencies.
Send this letter to the address listed on the application you received and keep a copy in your records. You might be amazed at how many of these letters are returned as undeliverable (Yes, people lie on applications). If a denial letter is returned to you for some reason, keep that as a record as well.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
In sum screening, qualifying tenants and then denying a person housing can be a tricky business, especially if someone feels they were discriminated against.
To protect yourself, use the simple procedures outlined above. Use the same procedure with every applicant and document, document, document everything. That one piece of paper in your file could mean the difference between a clear record and a $20,000 fine.