How To Choose The Right Tenant
Throughout my years as a Code Enforcement Officer and Section 8 Housing Inspector, I have seen lots of
landlord heartbreak. Every time I went to asses tenant damage on an exit inspection, I would always ask the
landlord “did you screen this tenant before they moved in?” The answer I received was usually a shameful
“No, they seemed so nice when I met them.”
In some cases, they checked with the previous landlord and they were given a squeaky clean reference.
I wonder why. Do you think a landlord could be as anxious to get rid of a bad tenant as you are to find
a good one?
Sometimes, landlords are just too anxious to fill a vacancy- especially if it’s been vacant for some time.
However-Landlord Beware! Neglecting to do your homework before turning over the key can cost you
more than just anxiety.
Thoroughly screening a prospective tenant is one of the most important things you can do. It can drastically
reduce your chances of renting to someone who may cause you a lot of grief, and cost you a lot of money
down the line.
You should always have a rental application filled out by the prospective tenant. Always verify the
information on that application. It is also a good idea to do a credit check, and civil and criminal background
checks, which in most cases will include sex offender status. In order to do this, you must have the applicant’s
consent in writing. You should have the tenant sign an Authorization to Release Information.
I recommend using a tenant screening company because they will advise you of your legal
obligations, so you don’t get yourself into trouble.
Once you select a candidate, you should proceed to contact their last two landlords and ask some
pertinent questions. Below we have listed some important questions that you should make a part of your
screening process. The most important aspect of this screening process is that it entails an investigation of the
applicant’s past rental history.
When screening an applicant, the prospective landlord must be very careful to comply with local,
state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Never ask a question that will violate the applicant’s legal rights.
Ask the following questions of the applicant’s current landlord:
1. How long has the tenant rented from you?
2. Does the tenant pay the rent on time?
3. If the tenant paid late, how late?
4. Has the tenant ever withheld rent? If so, why?
5. Did the tenant keep the inside and outside of the apartment clean?
6. Has the tenant ever violated any conditions of the lease?
7. Did the tenant have pets?
8. Have other tenants or neighbors ever complained about the tenant or the tenant’s guests?
9. Did the tenant give proper notice that he/she was moving out?
10. Would you rent to this tenant again?
Be sure to ask the previous landlord (the one before the current one) these questions:
1. What condition was the vacated apartment left in?
2. Would you rent to this tenant again?
Chances are if this is not a good prospect, you will have come to that conclusion before you finish asking
your questions. Or maybe one of the previous landlords will help you make that decision.
Unfortunately, because there is no totally fail-safe method of identifying problem tenants,
occasionally one may still slip through the screening process. However, there are a number of “red flags”
that you should look for when considering a new applicant. And you do get better at this as time goes by.
One Word of Caution: To avoid any chance of violating Fair Housing Laws, You must be consistent with
your application process. You must require every prospective tenant to undergo the same application
To sum it up, here are the 3 main rules to always follow:
1. Get an application, credit report and a background check
2. Follow through on your process and be consistent. Treat everyone the same.
3. Comply with all Fair Housing Laws to keep yourself out of trouble
And here is another resource that you should read:
Source of Income Law