Today, we’re talking about an issue that gets lots of owners in trouble, and that’s the tenant screening process. It’s an area that requires you to be assertive and aggressive in some things, but also prohibits you from asking any questions that could be discriminatory. There is some confusion about tenant screening because of the legal issues included, and I think it’s the one thing that professional property managers do much better than individual owners who are trying to manage the process on their own.
At Aborn Properties, we do this over and over again, and we also stay trained in the latest laws. The questions not to ask are the things that might identify a protected class. You cannot ask about marriage, sexual orientation or sexual relationships, age, the number of children someone might have, even though you might need to know how many children will be in the house. These are things you cannot ask about. For example, you shouldn’t ask someone where he is originally from. I am always curious about these things because I like people and I like accents, but you cannot ask because if you turn that renter down, he can come back and say he was denied because of being Latvian or whatever his country of origin might be.
You do need to ask probing questions about things that are appropriate to the rental of a home. You can ask about salary information and obtain credit information. Ask about their credit situation and then compare what they tell you to what turns up in the credit report. Talk to previous landlords. Ask for a list, get phone numbers and make your calls. Ask about any criminal history. You can get a felony conviction report when you request a credit report.
Make sure your application is up to date and compliant with state law. You want every space to be filled in by your potential tenant. When I talk to people who have had trouble with tenants, the application usually has a lot of blank spaces. They won’t fill in what they don’t want you to know. Get an application fee up front. You should always have people pay an application fee. If nothing else, it will cover the cost of the credit check. Asking for a fee will also dissuade people who know they will not pass your screening process. Therefore, $25 can go a long way towards thinning out the number of applications you need to go through.
The most important thing I want to leave you with is this: do not rely on the tenant’s word. Get a credit report, talk to previous landlords as well as the current landlord. Check employment by calling the employer. Verify everything they say. What sets professionals and amateurs apart is how thoroughly tenants are screened. Check every item. It’s the one safeguard you have before turning your property over to someone else.
If you have any questions, or need any help with tenant screening, please give us a call at Aborn Properties.