Successful Tenant Screening for Your Rental Property

Published: Aug 01, 2020

Screening to Ensure Successful Tenants for Your Rental Property

Screening successful residents to lease your single-family rental home or apartment is a time-consuming task. There are several steps involved in the process, and many contingencies to consider along the way. In addition, you must comply with all local, state, and federal housing laws and regulations. Making sure you're legally compliant and ensuring that your new residents can pay their rent on time each month are among the most important considerations.“Everyone has an equal opportunity to lease our homes and apartments," explains Kate Bond, director of leasing for Mynd Property Management. "We have a first-come, first-served policy," she says, adding that one of the most crucial parts of securing a lease as a resident is to have all of your financial paperwork ready to go.

But before you even begin the tenant placement process, you'll first want to establish the minimum monthly rent that your resident can pay. This critical step includes knowing what kind of rent you can achieve at your property. If you're not aware of local market-rate rents in your property's area, consult with a local property manager or broker for a complete rental analysis of your asset.

Screening tenants at rental property

Here are the 10 steps to take when screening prospective residents for your property:

  1. Request that any prospective tenant aged 18 years or older complete a rental application. At Mynd, the one-time tenant screening service fee is approximately $50.
  2. Ask any potential tenant for income verification. Income should meet minimum monthly income standards that you have already established up front.
  3. Verify your applicant's identity by checking for a valid government-issued photo ID.
  4. Use a third-party credit agency, such as TransUnion, to process your applicant's credit check, credit score, tenant background check, and eviction history check.
  5. If the result of the tenant screening report says the tenant is "Denied," based on information discovered from the financial screening process noted above, an Adverse Action Notice must be sent to all applicants within 24-hours of the denial. By law, you are required to provide the denied applicant with the name, phone number, and address of the credit agency you used. The reason for denial must also be stated. The applicant also has a right to be provided with a copy of the credit report used in the decision.
  6. If the result from the screening process is returned as "Approved with Conditions," the applicant may rent the available property with an additional required security deposit. An Adverse Action Notice must be sent to all applicants within 24-hours of the conditional approval. The name, phone number, and address of the credit agency used must be provided. Also, the reason for Approved with Conditions must be stated. If requested, the applicant must be provided with a copy of the credit report used in the decision.
  7. If the result from the screening process is returned as Approved or Approved with Conditions, the applicant may rent the available property with the required security deposit. Then, an Application Approval Notice must be sent to all applicants.
  8. Provide your approved applicant with instructions on paying the security deposit. Mynd, for instance, creates urgency by letting prospects know that whoever pays their deposit first takes the property off the market. Most management companies keep approved applications active for 30 days.
  9. If you have created an online portal or digital system to process rent applications, provide instructions for all applicants to digitally sign the lease agreement within 24 hours of receiving the Approval Notice.

Guarantors and Housing Choice Vouchers

If you have an applicant who does not meet the minimum income requirement, the applicant can add a Guarantor to the lease agreement. "In college towns with a prevalence of student housing, student renters often use a parent or guardian as a Guarantor for their first rental unit," explains Bond.

Negative credit or criminal history can impact a renter's ability to secure a Guarantor, however. Consult with your local property manager for more information. Should the applicant be a participant in the Housing Choice Voucher Program formerly known as Section 8, you must present a valid housing voucher along with a completed rental application and verification of income documents, Bond notes.

Great Listings and Rental Agreements

Great Listings

Writing a great rental listing is part of the tenant screening process. A great listing lays out your tenant expectations in a way that encourages more quality tenants to apply.

Rental Agreements

Thanks to free rental agreement templates, you can make your agreements specific enough to include things like smoking bans, which can be a form of fire prevention, and criteria for running a business out of their rental property. If these stipulations are deal breakers for your tenant, you may consider changing your rules to be less stringent or telling your tenant that they’re ineligible. 

Keep Your Search Legal

Federal Fair Housing Law

When you’re screening applications, you have to follow the Fair Housing Act so that you’re not discriminating against protected classes.

  • Familial status
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Race
  • National origin 

Fair Chance Housing Ordinances

Some cities, like Portland and Oakland, have fair chance housing ordinances that prohibit using criminal background checks as a reason to deny housing. These laws make sense considering that arrest and conviction aren’t always appropriate, nor do they mean someone will be a bad tenant. A “good tenant” can also end up facing eviction.

If you are worried about crime, which you should be since it’s a landlord liability, then just include a list of illicit activities in your lease agreement that will be punished by early lease termination. Tenant safety is the responsibility of the property manager or owner. 

Service and Emotional Support Animals

While you may have rules that dictate pets living in your rental property, those rules cannot be applied to service and emotional support animals because these are working animals rather than pets. 

Partner with a Property Manager

Using a full-service property management company to screen prospective residents is a good idea if you're an out-of-area rental property owner, have limited time to manage your investment property, or have minimal knowledge of local landlord/tenant laws and regulations. In general, Mynd Property Management's screening criteria tend to yield higher-quality residents because the company is located in competitive rental markets with strong economic indicators, such as the Bay Area, Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento. 

All of theseWest Coast metros feature high barriers to entry and a strong pool of qualified leasing applicants. "We tend to get higher-quality residents at Mynd-managed properties because folks that apply and provide documentation the fastest, tend to perform better in other ways," Bond says. "If you're 'Johnny-on-the-Spot' when it comes to paying rent and getting your income documents together, you're probably very responsible when it comes to completing other tasks, including paperwork."

Mynd's digital leasing experience expedites the process by allowing applicants to fill out forms and other paperwork completely online.

Creating a portal for prospective residents to apply online or through a native app allows you to screen them even faster, saving you time and money.

Time Is of the Essence

The importance of timing in the tenant screening process

Typically, the entire process to screen an applicant for a rental property takes two hours. And that's if you have the process down to a science, and experts working for you who understand your local market, landlord/tenant regulations, and fair housing laws. No matter which type of residential property you're leasing, hiring a property manager or third party to screen potential renters will expedite this multi-step process.

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