Landlord’s Guide to Screening Tenants

Posted by Hannah Lapin on Jan 20, 2022 4:55:00 PM

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Landlords want tenants who can pay their rent without issue and can live in the property with minimal damage. This should not be difficult to achieve, but a number of landlords have had bad experiences and horror stories because of problematic tenants. In fact, Transunion Rental Screening Solutions surveyed rental homeowners about their biggest concerns:

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Interviewing an applicant is not enough. There are a number of steps to take in order to get the details necessary to decide whether or not to offer a leasing agreement to a prospective tenant. Avoid any problems by doing some extra legwork before you sign a lease.  Keep reading to learn how to thoroughly screen a tenant.


Start with an Application

Any prospective tenant should complete an application. Rental applications are available from templates online or from your local real estate association. An application should cover necessary components including:

  • Personal information
  • Employment history and current employment information
  • Financial details
  • Number of occupants (and any pets)
  • Current income level
  • Contact details for previous landlords
  • Contact information of personal references

The document should also grant the landlord permission to run a criminal history report, background check, or credit check as well as permission to check into employment and financial histories as needed. This information will help landlords better gauge the applicant and identify any red flags.


Questions to Avoid Asking Potential Tenants

An application should not include any questions that can be seen as discriminatory or can violate the Federal Fair Housing Act. Even though they may seem like innocent inquiries, here are the kinds of questions you should avoid and examples of each:

Questions Related to Familial or Marital Status

  • Are you pregnant?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Where do your kids go to school?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you divorced?

Questions Related to Religion

  • What is your religion?
  • Do you need directions to the nearest church?
  • Do you want to learn more about the synagogues in this neighborhood?

Questions Related to Race or National Origin

  • Are you white or Hispanic?
  • What is your first language?
  • Where were your parents born?
  • What country are you from?
  • Did you know a lot of minorities live in this area?

Questions Related to a Disability

  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you have a service dog?

Questions that are Personal

  • Sexuality?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you single?
  • How long have you been married?

Perform a Credit & Background Check

A potential tenant’s credit history may provide important information to a landlord, just as a potential homeowner's credit history weighs heavily on their ability to obtain a mortgage on a home. A landlord may have to pay for the cost of running the check or state laws may make it possible for a prospective tenant to pay the fee.

A landlord will want to look for any financial issues, such as recent bankruptcies, late payments, collection accounts, or significant debt. A history of late payments or serious delinquencies should serve as a red flag for a landlord. It is easy to order a credit report and more from Equifax or another credit bureau.

You can also get more information about a tenant’s past with a background check. A background check will verify the applicant’s identity as well as any criminal history in the past ten years and is another opportunity to keep an eye out for red flags.


Talk to Former Landlords

Some key tenant information can be obtained from talking to references. For instance, insight such as property damage will not show up on a credit report.

Here are some helpful questions:

  • Was the tenant ever late on payments? If so, how often?
  • Was there any major damage caused to the unit by the tenant?
  • Did the tenant receive their security deposit back when he or she moved out?
  • Would you rent to this tenant again?

Other questions may be permissible. However, none of the queries would be about the lifestyle of a potential tenant. Questions about late payments or disruptions to neighbors are within acceptable boundaries and may provide a prospective landlord with more information.


Take Advantage of Landlord Resources

There is no need to reinvent the wheel with tenant screening — many property management software companies offer tenant screening services. Another good resource is They provide free, verified, and trusted documents for real estate investors managing their own properties. Vetted through attorneys and regulations checks, the documents available on the website include everything from rental applications and full leases to late notices and eviction notices. 

Tenant screenings with credit and criminal background checks are also available on for $29.95 per application ($24.95 for premium account holders). This service allows landlords to receive full credit reports and FICO scores without having to comply with the complexities and legal requirements that typically accompany credit checks.


Strong Tenants Keep Landlords Successful

Minimal property damage and regular, on-time payments are key for real estate investors looking to successfully grow their rental portfolios. Start your investment journey with the nation’s leader in rental loans.

Contact us today for a competitive quote.


Related: Landlord’s Guide to Screening Tenants, Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Retention

Topics: Landlording

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