Find a Tenant: Credit Check and Screening

Screening Tenants for Our Rental Property

Our rental property after a rare Texas snow.

So you just became a landlord and you want to know how to screen tenants and complete that tenant credit check?

Well, you are in luck. I just became a rental property owner myself and I learned how to properly screen tenants, including the credit check.

One of the great unknowns of becoming a landlord is how to screen tenants so that you can find the right people to live in your rental unit.

Lord knows you don’t want someone skipping out on you or beating up your home after you’ve spent time advertising your rental and fixing it up.

With the technology we have these days, it’s really very easy. But there are some things that can trip you up.

Know Your HOA Rules for Screening Tenants

First and foremost, you need to contact your home owners association and find out what their terms are for allowing tenants in the community. You might be surprised at how strict they are. For instance, my HOA requires that I only take tenants who are able to do a minimum of 12 month on the lease agreement.

Additionally, my HOA requires that I provide a criminal background check on my tenants and that I submit that to them, along with the proposed lease, and an additional information sheet, for their approval. Which can take up to a week. Don’t get me started on how much of a pita that is.

Have an Objective Standard When Screening

Secondly, and probably most importantly when it comes to dealing with prospective tenants, you need to develop an objective standard by which you judge each new tenant/applicant.

What I mean is that you need a standard application process that you put each potential renter through that contains a standard scoring system to evaluate each tenant based on their own situation.

Said in another way, you need a checklist. I turned to www.mrlandlord.net to get all the materials I needed to help me screen my tenants, including a checklist. This checklist includes:

  • Financial Criteria
  • Cooperation/Reliability Criteria
  • Rental Stability Criteria

You score each of the points under each of these criteria headings and you come up with a total score. If your potential tenant meets or exceeds that score then they pass your application.

Having an objective standard in place when screening tenants makes your job so much easier and it gives you confidence that you are doing the right thing and finding the right renter.

The reason this is so valuable is that as a new landlord, you have no idea what constitutes a “good” tenant. And if you fear that the first person that comes along might be your only lead, without a standard, you might make a bad decision and end up with a bad tenant.

Use Pre-screening Questions

Finding the right tenant takes time. The last thing you want to do is waste time taking applications from or showing the unit to prospective tenants that aren’t even qualified based on known information.

For instance, I ask my tenants the following questions when they call or email about the unit:

  • When is your desired move-in date?
  • Can you do a 12 months lease? The HOA requires this.
  • Do you have pets or are you a smoker?
  • How many adults will be living in the home?
  • When is a good time for you to see the home this week? Please list a couple of days/times.

If the tenant says, “oh, I can’t do 12 months” or “I actually have a pet” then you’ve saved yourself anymore time spent dealing with this prospective tenant. On to the next one.

I made the mistake of not asking these questions once and wasted an hour of my time (two 30 min showings of the unit) because the tenant had a dog. I has assumed she read that on the listing. Never assume when your time is involved.

How to Do the Tenant Credit Check

There are lots of places online that will facilitate your tenant credit check. I do all of my tenant credit checks using Avail. It’s a smooth as silk operation.

All you do is collect your prospective tenants email address, give it to Avail, and they handle the rest.

The tenant gets a request for application from Avail and then completes and pays for the application. They pay a one time fee. They then complete the application and almost instantly a report is sent to your email.

The report contains a credit check (including score), criminal background check, and legal records check. Avail sources their information from credit agencies, and multiple background check sites including FBI and terrorism lists.

Once I receive the report I plug the information into my prospective tenant checklist. If I need more information, I follow up with the tenant. Then, I’m able to give the tenant a yea or nay.

There’s so much more I could share about this screening process, but I have to stop somewhere. Being a landlord has been fun so far, but there is no doubt that dealing with screening tenants has been the most challenging part for me. In my next installment I hope to cover agreements, deposits, receiving rent, etc.

What about you? Are you a landlord? Tell us your tenant screening process? Have a question about investing in real estate properties or bringing on tenants? Ask away.

Avatar About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon.

He created Part-Time Money® back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.

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  1. Avatar Donna Freedman says

    I used to manage a small apartment building, and learned to say right upfront that there would be a credit and background check. That eliminated a whole bunch of people right off the bat, i.e., neither their time nor mine was wasted on a walk-through if they knew they wouldn’t be approved.
    Some people would protest: “Yeah, I have some debt but I cut up my cards!” (how do the owners know you did — and even if you did, how do they know you won’t just get new ones?) or “That debt was from my spouse!” (that’s a tough one, but YOUR NAME is on the card and you are responsible).
    So start all phone calls with, “Thanks for your interest in the property. If you’d like to come and see it, please bring a current, state-issued photo ID and the $25 fee for a credit and background check.” Sometimes you’ll get an, “Oh. Well, thanks anyway.” Sometimes you’ll get, “Is that really necessary?” Once or twice I got a “click…(dial tone).”
    Love the idea of Facebook, by the way…It helps to see a photo of Prospective Tenant with his boa constrictor wrapped around his waist, or lying unconscious next to a pile of beer cans while his friends draw on his face with Sharpies.