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How to Screen Applicants for Your Rental Property

Carefully screening applicants is essential to keep your rental units occupied with residents who pay on time, take care of the property, and get along with their neighbors. Careful screening can help you avoid legal issues, because you have less need to take legal action against good residents, and they’re less likely to file legal claims against you. To screen applicants, take the following steps:

  1. Have the person complete and submit an application that includes her name, current address, Social Security number, employment history, rental history, income, and so on.

  2. Order a credit and background check for the prospective resident.

    You can find several services online that perform credit and background checks. Your application should include language stating that the applicant agrees to a credit and background check.

  3. Contact the applicant’s employer to verify the applicant’s employment and income and find out how long the applicant has been employed there.

    You may also want to require copies of pay stubs, recent W-2s and 1099s, the previous year’s tax return, and a recent bank statement.

  4. Contact the applicant’s personal references.

  5. Contact any landlords the applicant rented from in the past and ask about payment history, the condition the applicant left the property in, and whether the applicant caused problems with her neighbors.

  6. Interview the applicant in person.

    Ask why the person is moving and why she chose this area. Ask questions related to information you gathered in previous steps to determine whether what the applicant tells you matches up with what you already know. Inconsistencies can be a red flag.

When screening prospective renters, you must comply with fair housing laws, so certain questions are off-limits. You can gather information about a prospect’s employment status, income, credit history, housing history, and criminal past, but you’re prohibited from asking an applicant whether she has children, what country she’s from, her religion, and so forth.

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