From late payers and non-payers to chronic complainers and rule breakers, bad tenants will quickly turn your property investment dreams into the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately, it’s possible for landlords to avoid leasing to the nastiest of occupants—but only if you thoroughly review the tenant applications you receive and vet the information within them.
Start by Standardizing Your Tenant Application Process
Virtually every state in U.S. has its own standardized lease application, and that’s the form you’ll want to use. Contact your state’s real estate commission or the local office of the National Association of Realtors if you’re unsure where to find the most updated version of this document. Though use of these official forms by persons who are not members of the association or licensed Realtors is not authorized, your Realtor representative can get you access.
Of course, use of a standardized form is not enough. You should also ensure that you follow the same process each time you accept a tenant application. This includes obtaining a copy of the applicant’s photo ID, a signed Authorization to Release Information form so you can run a criminal background check and obtain the potential tenant’s credit report, pay stubs to show employment and income, and the contact information of the current and former landlords.
“Uniformity is essential,” says Jonathan H. Coleman, MBA, Broker, and Realtor Relations Manager at Go4Rent, which offers a free service for Realtors that enables applicants to apply online, upload supporting documents, and pay lease application fees. “With one standardized process to screen all of your lease applications, selecting the right tenant becomes easier.”
Never Skip the Credit and Criminal Background Checks
If you want to reduce your chances of leasing to tenants who pay late or won’t pay at all, a credit check to evaluate their financial status is essential. “It will help you determine the financial responsibility of a potential tenant,” Coleman adds. “The credit report will also reveal any collection accounts placed by a previous apartment community or landlord.”
Running a criminal background check in addition to pulling the credit report offers another layer of protection against the potential of renting to a tenant who could jeopardize your property. Criminal background checks will show you if your potential occupant has a relevant felony conviction or is listed on a sex offender registry.
Talk to the Applicant’s Current and Previous Landlords
Collection accounts are one way to identify tenants who have failed to pay their rent in the past, but it’s wise to contact the applicant’s current and previous landlords to gather additional details. Did they disobey any of the apartment community or property’s rules? Did other tenants or neighbors complain about them? Did the property manager find them difficult to deal with? Did they leave any damage behind when their lease ended? This is all valuable information to have when making a rental decision.
Take the Time to Confirm Income and Employment
While a credit report may list current employers, it’s important to reach out to them directly when reviewing tenant applications. You should confirm the length of their employment, double-check that they are still employed there, and ask about income or wages earned. Compare this information to the potential tenant’s pay stubs and lease application.
“It’s good practice to verify the applicant’s current employment utilizing several avenues of information,” Coleman explains. “At Go4Rent, we don’t just rely on pay stubs. In most cases, we obtain a verification from the applicant’s HR department.”
If your potential tenant is self-employed, Coleman recommends vetting his or her income through bank statements and tax returns. “We need the ability to see the current and past performance of their business,” he adds. “At a minimum, we ask for the last three bank statements and the last two years of tax returns to provide a broader view of their financial stability.”
If you learn while reviewing the application that a tenant is going to be starting a new job or changing jobs shortly, ask for a copy of the job offer letter. Similarly, if you note that the applicant has poor credit, you can request a Letter of Explanation addressing any particular event (such as a health emergency or divorce) that may account for the damaged credit score.
A Thorough Review Helps You Avoid Many Landlord’s Biggest Leasing Mistakes
“The biggest mistake we’ve seen property owners make is not verifying the information provided by the tenant,” Coleman says. “You must view the credit report with a criminal and eviction report. You must verify current employment and make sure the applicant did not terminate employment after applying for the rental. You must verify the current rental history.”
Doing so takes time but being thorough is better than making a bad leasing decision that could lead to costly eviction proceedings. If you find the process too complex or want to shorten your review time, Go4Rent can help.
“We can do all of these checks for them,” Coleman adds. “The credit report will provide a FICO score along with all the payment history. Our criminal and evictions reports contain nationwide data. For verification, we have an in-house staff conducting daily phone calls and emails to applicant’s employers and landlords. Additionally, Go4Rent provides landlords with two years of rental history.” <
Learn more about Go4Rent’s realtor services at Go4Rent.com.