Tenant Screening (Don’t get too excited just yet.)

Screening. It’s important. I’m about to allow relative strangers to move in above me, and be in possession of over $100,000 worth of my real estate investment, with only about a thousand dollars to cover any damages. That, and I’m counting on them to pay me on time, every month, so that I can make my mortgage payment. It’s kind of a scary thing. While I do feel like I usually have a good sense of “gut-feeling” about people, this is the kind of situation where I want to back that up with some objective information.

I subscribe to an online service that lets me see a credit report, credit score, and do an eviction search for about $20. I think it’s money well spent. I also call their current and previous landlords, and often call their employers to verify employment and income. I do a quick google search on their names, too, to see if anything interesting and unsavory pops up.

The rental market has been soft, and there has been a huge home-buying craze, which means that practically anyone over the age of 25 who has perfect credit has bought a house in the past few years. Also, this isn’t really a high-rent part of town. So I can’t limit myself to people with perfect credit, or I may never find a renter.

In my opinion, the most important reference is current and past landlords. I always call them as soon as possible; some require a signed release (the application), and won’t say too much, for fear of getting sued; others are instantly chatty over the phone, volunteering all sorts of information. Even if the current landlord gives them a shining review, I still call the previous one for good measure (I’ve read that occasionally a landlord may give a good review to a bad tenant in hopes of getting rid of them.) If they habitually pay rent on time, have gotten along with the neighbors, and keep a neat and clean apartment, that seems ultimately more important than perfect credit.

I have turned people down before, based on their references and/or credit information. It was heart-breaking, because I liked the applicants personally, and I was really excited to have found someone so quickly. I sent them an impersonal rejection letter (a form letter from my personal landlord bible), and went back out there on a blank slate, hoping that I’d find someone else better. Sounds kind of like dating, actually…

I’ve settled on this for my screening criteria: an adequate job (or some student loans, etc.) to pay the rent, a couple of good landlord references, no prior evictions, nothing crazy going on currently in their credit report, a checking account (I refuse to rent to anyone who stores their money in a coffee can!), and a good gut-feeling. Of course, I’m relatively new at this. If, a year from now, I’m writing a blog entry entitled “Evictions, or, how my life became a living hell” we’ll know that it didn’t turn out so well. I think it’ll be fine, though. Fingers crossed.


I can’t get emotionally attached to an applicant until I’ve thoroughly screened them. Gut feelings are important, but this is a time for being objective.

According to my tenant screening service, Experian and Equifax won’t allow small landlords who work out of their home to pull credit reports. The fear, apparently, is that if you’re working out of your home, you may accidentally leave someone’s credit report sitting out on the kitchen table for all of your friends and family to see when they visit. Personally, I try to be a little more organized with that sort of paperwork, but ok. TransUnion will let me pull credit reports, and those work just fine for me.

Unfortunately, I can’t expect perfect credit, unless I’m not afraid to let my apartment go vacant. There has to be some middle ground between super-high standards and getting a warm body.

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One thought on “Tenant Screening (Don’t get too excited just yet.)

  1. I also like to check to see if they have sued previous landlords. I am also looking into making them pull their criminal report and bringing it to me, which is what public owned complexes do.

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