Tenant Screening 101

Making all the right moves in your tenant screening process.

Last updated Feb 4, 2020

Imagine this scenario: A potential tenant contacts you about renting a home. He or she is charming, funny and regale you with stories of their upcoming move. You have a good feeling about the tenant and, since they readily agree to the monthly rent and deposit, you go ahead and have them sign the lease. After all, a quick rental process means lower marketing and carrying costs, representing a tremendous savings in money.

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Over the following weeks after the tenant moves in, a series of complaints began to come in about the new renter. It seems that there are loud parties and cars coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

Even worse, the first month’s rent goes unpaid, the front lawn is not being manicured and the general upkeep of the property is severely lacking.

Thus begins a downward spiral of legal action, eviction notices, and property damage that ends with thousands of dollars spent and a frustrating process to get the property back on track.

Whether you are starting out as an agent or have years of real estate experience, you’ll probably find yourself at some point in the position of trying to improve your tenant screening process. You may have many reasons for revisiting and optimizing your process, including some or all of the following:

  • You or your client may have been burned by a bad tenant experience and find that your previous tenant screening process is no longer effective.
  • You may want to streamline and improve your process in order to make it easier to implement.
  • You may want to put updated electronic systems to work to improve the reliability and transparency of your tenant screening.
  • You may have taken on more properties or more responsibility and need to implement a more consistent screening process.
  • You may simply feel that there has to be a better way to evaluate potential tenants than the process you're currently using.

Whatever your reason for seeking out a new process, you'll find all of the answers you're looking for here. This guide will answer some of your most burning questions and offer you real life applications and actionable tools designed to help you create a coherent, consistent process that you can use for all of your tenant screening.

Here’s what you can expect in this guide:

  1. Tenant Screening 101
  2. Creating your tenant screening checklist
  3. Tenant screening laws
  4. Determining tenant screening criteria
  5. Rental property marketing
  6. Questions to ask rental applicants
  7. Showing the rental property
  8. What is a rental background check?
  9. Top five problems with tenant screening services
  10. Onboarding a new tenant

How can RentSpree help with tenant screening?

RentSpree offers a variety of tools designed to help streamline tenant screening for landlords, property managers, and rental agents. We work with individuals, teams, and corporate clients to create solutions to the most frustrating problems you face -- how to find the right tenant for your rental property and how to keep your properties filled with reliable, financially qualified renters.

The RentSpree Difference

What makes RentSpree different from other tenant screening platforms?

Simplicity

RentSpree offers a simpler, more straightforward single-step process for collecting online rental applications and screening potential applicants. When applicants submit their rental application information, you receive the screening reports you’ve requested -- providing the information you need to make the right decisions.

Transparency

We offer transparent pricing, including an affordable application fee which you can pass along to your applicants. We never surprise you with hidden fees or site inspections -- what you see is what you get with RentSpree.

Comprehensiveness

We don’t nickel and dime you with bits and pieces of a screening package. We offer a comprehensive process powered by our partnership with TransUnion. You’ll receive a full online rental application, a TransUnion credit report, criminal background check, and nationwide eviction report. That means you’ll have the fullest possible picture of your potential renter’s financial and behavioral background.

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Whom do we serve?

RentSpree works with all of the following types of clients:

  • Real estate agents: Screen more effectively when you specialize in rental properties, whether you’re representing owners or renters.
  • Property Managers: Streamline your property management, both on individual properties and portfolios.
  • Owner/operators: Protect the value of your investment when you use our trusted screening services.
  • Real estate brokerages: Provide a streamlined process for your agents and property managers by making our service available at the brokerage level.
  • Real estate associations: Offer a value-added benefit for your members who work with rental properties.
  • Real estate investor platforms and organizations: Provide peace of mind to owner/operators with a ready-made process.
  • MLS and Listing Services: Automate the application process for your members.

What is the benefit of proper tenant screening?

In times past, people did business based on a handshake or a gut feeling. Often, determining a potential renter’s background was as simple as making a phone call to their boss or checking in with his or her previous landlord.

Now, however, people move frequently from city to city. People change jobs far more frequently and earn their income in a variety of ways: through entrepreneurial and freelance income, a series of side-gigs, or a combination of salary and commission. This can create challenges for employment and financial verifications.

In addition, tenants and neighbors have an expectation of security in their homes. Landlords who fail to conduct proper screening can open themselves up to liability in the event that a tenant behaves improperly or conducts criminal activities at their rental property.

Moreover, preserving the value of the property may depend upon conducting a proper screening of that new tenant. It only takes a few days for a property to sustain damage, and a few weeks or months for it to fall into a state of severe disrepair.

Finding a reliable tenant isn’t just about making sure the rent is paid on time -- it’s also about making sure that the tenant treats the property with the respect it deserves, keeping up with agreed-upon maintenance and notifying the landlord in case of damage.

For all of these reasons, a proper screening process can save you, or in the case of an Agent your client, thousands in repairs, legal fees, and carrying costs. What’s more, the peace of mind you’ll gain from having an ideal tenant in place is priceless.

What can you expect from this guide?

We’ve created this guide to offer you a step-by-step process for conceptualizing, conducting, and evaluating your tenant screening. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

Creating your tenant screening checklist

Before you get started, you’ll need to think through the various things you want your screening process to consider. The more specific and comprehensive you are in your screening, the more effective the outcome will be in protecting you and the property.

Tenant screening laws

There are a variety of laws on the books to protect both you and potential renters during the tenant screening process. Fair housing and privacy laws must be considered as you evaluate rental applications in order to ensure a fair decision and protect you from an accusation of discriminatory policies and practices.

Determining tenant screening criteria

How will you evaluate the potential tenant and what are the deal-breakers that you need to prepare for? This step will help ensure that you are using appropriate criteria in your decision-making so that you can optimize the entire process.

Rental property marketing

The more potential renters you have, the better your rental outcomes will be. Properly marketing your rental property gives you more choice, allowing you to find the most dependable, long-term prospects for your rental property. We’ll help you with strategies designed to show your property at its best -- and get it in front of the best possible applicants.

Questions to ask rental applicants

The right questions can help you spark a conversation, identify red flags, and better evaluate the potential renter. We’ll share our 20 question checklist that you’ll want to use for your next tenant interview -- and why those questions work so well.

Showing the rental property

There’s an art to helping renters fall in love with your rental property. Learn how to highlight your property’s best features and how to conduct a showing that will have renters eager to submit their rental application.

What is a rental background check?

Whether you’ve had a bad experience in the past or just want to create a more reliable process for the future, a properly conducted background check is a must for making the right decision during your screening process. Find out what constitutes a thorough background check and how RentSpree makes it easier than you ever thought possible.

Top five problems with tenant screening services

All online tenant screening services are not created equal. Find out how some screening platforms miss the mark, and what you should be looking for in a top-notch tenant screening service.

Onboarding a new tenant

You’ve made your decision, so now it’s time to help that new tenant get settled. Learn how to make this process easy -- and even fun! -- as you introduce your new renter to your property and help them feel right at home. Find out how to help them navigate moving day and get up to speed on rent payments, repair requests, and scheduled maintenance.

Is all of this really necessary?

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You may be second-guessing your decision to improve your tenant screening process. After all, why can’t you just rely on your intuition to choose the right tenant?

While many people believe in their innate instinct when making decisions, unscrupulous renters can play on your emotions, sympathy, and kindness to get into a rental, then fail to pay rent, create property damage, or conduct illegal activities on-site.

Once there, it becomes extremely difficult to evict a renter and in some markets it’s almost impossible. You or your client could end up spending an extraordinary amount of time and money to get the renter out of the property, then even more time and money getting the property ready for a new tenant.

There is no reason to take this kind of risk. Once you go through the steps to create a proper tenant screening process and implement a reliable system for conducting background checks, you can rent with confidence, knowing that you’ve created a more secure way of evaluating potential tenants.

In addition, better tenants lead to better tenant retention. This saves you or your client thousands in marketing and turnover costs each year. When you find great long-term tenants and treat them well, they are often happy to stay in place for the long haul.

Now that you know why you should create a better tenant screening process, it’s time to look at how to implement one.

Continue to Chapter 2: Creating your tenant screening checklist or jump to a different article.

  1. Tenant Screening 101
  2. Creating your tenant screening checklist
  3. Tenant Screening Laws
  4. Determining Tenant Screening Criteria
  5. Rental Property Marketing
  6. Questions To Ask Rental Applicants
  7. Showing the Rental Property
  8. What is a rental background check?
  9. Top 5 Problems With Tenant Screening Services
  10. Onboarding A New Tenant