First Person: A Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening

tenantriskverification August 27, 2012 0

By Angela Colley

When I first started working in real estate I worked with a landlord who thought he knew the golden rule of renters, “You’re either going to get good tenants or bad ones.” While that probably isn’t profound enough to be a golden rule, it is true. When you become a landlord, you’re risking your property and bad tenants can be hard to spot on sight, which is why I always suggest that landlord’s screen their tenants well. Here is how you should be screening your tenants so that you can cut down on some of the risk.

Background Checks

The first thing I do with a prospective renter is to request their criminal background from my local court office. Most court cases are a matter of public record and you can quickly find out if a tenant has a history of criminal misconduct, or if he was sued by a landlord in the past. Most prospective renters will not have a criminal history of any kind, but it’s better to be on the safe side and request this information.

Employment Checks

The most important thing to the landlords I work with is that the tenant has the ability to pay the rent. While I can’t be sure that a tenant will always pay the rent, or always pay on time, I can make sure that he has income. I do this by requesting three paystubs from prospective tenants. The paystubs should show the amount made each check and the amount made for the year so far. I also request a letter from the tenant’s employer showing that she is still employed, or (with the tenant’s permission,) I simply call her employer and ask.

Rental History

Rental history doesn’t appear on credit reports so it is harder to find out than other screening aspects, but you shouldn’t skip it. While I have had tenants with poor rental history turn out to be great renters, I’ve also had tenants with poor rental history turn out to be terrible renters. Now I do what I can do find out about the tenant’s rental past before I rent to them. The easiest way I’ve found to do so is to request a list of previous landlords from the tenant and call the landlord myself.

Credit Scores

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what credit limit you’ll accept for your rentals. Generally, I allow tenants with lower credit scores if they have a good rental history and source of income, but I still pull the tenant’s credit history and review it. You can get a credit history from the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

 This article was written by Angela Colley  and originally published on

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