Tenant screening is an important tool for landlords and property managers to help them decide whether or not to rent a unit to a given person. Using common sense and watching out for warning signs is important, but these aren’t always sufficient for avoiding problem tenants. Information such as criminal records, housing records, and employment verification all form part of a good tenant screening, which can greatly decrease the likelihood of problems for the landlord later on.
For a landlord to be able to get a complete picture, it is helpful to obtain information from a variety of sources. One essential part of tenant screening is prior housing information. A landlord will want to see if a prospective tenant has ever been evicted before. A single eviction may be chalked up to extenuating circumstances, but multiple evictions are a strong warning sign. However, most problem tenants don’t make it to eviction court, so problem renter reports, gathered from a reputable tenant screening agency, will help to complete the picture.
Criminal records are another essential piece of information. The ability to see past criminal history is a must when evaluating a potential tenant. Many tenant screening agencies provide for nationwide criminal searches, which can be highly valuable. Often times, simply having every applicant sign an authorization to search criminal records will scare away those for whom this would be an issue.
It is also important to establish a tenant's financial responsibility. A proper tenant screening will include a snapshot of a person’s financial history, his debt, and of course, employment. The purpose of this part of the screening is to verify that a person will be able to consistently pay his full rent, and do so on time. A credit report and a current pay stub are things that a landlord would want to obtain, and a call to the person’s employer is also well-advised.
Tenant screening agencies have been in operation since the late 1960s, and came into being in response to the lack of information available at the time to landlords about prospective tenants. Obtaining things like criminal records took so much time and effort that most landlords failed to do so. In general, the longer a screening agency has been in business, the more reputable it is. It does cost landlords a fee to use such services, but many will pass this fee along to the tenant as a nonrefundable application fee. This actually serves the dual purpose of reducing a landlord’s costs, as well as filtering out serious renters from those who are casual shoppers.