Good news! A prospective tenant has filled out an application for your apartment. But, before you get out the lease, you need to make sure this applicant will be a good fit for your apartment with a screening system. A top-notch rental application can lessen the chance that you have to go through the tough and expensive process of evicting a tenant, or that you’ll be left wondering when your next rent payment will come. Safety— your personal and legal safety, the safety of your property, the safety of the applications, and the safety of the other tenants— should always be top of mind when you screen your applications. Get ready to screen your applicants safely, legally, and correctly with these dos and don’ts of tenant screening!
Dos And Don’ts of Tenant Screening
DO: Know Fair Housing Laws
The Fair Housing Laws are designed to make sure that no member of a protected group is discriminated against in their search for housing. Across the United States, the Fair Housing Act protects 7 classes of individuals— race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. However, different states have other groups that are considered protected classes along with these core 7. For example, in Massachusetts, this list includes individuals with veteran or active military status. Make sure that you know the “Big 7” and other protected classes in the state where your property is located!
DO: Stay FCRA-Compliant
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) ensures that sensitive credit information is kept only in your hands, and, that if you reject someone based on their credit score, you let them know with a “Adverse Reaction Notice.” A good rental application can make sure that you stay FCRA-Compliant, especially online ones that skip the potential difficulty of keeping track of paper application!
DO: Know Your ADA
Another piece legal must-know. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) makes sure that your apartment is accessible to those with disabilities. As with the other legal parts of rental applications, we recommend getting expert help if you have specific questions, but, here’s a couple of core ideas to keep in mind.
- Service animals— working animals that have been trained to perform tasks that assist disabled people— do not count as pets, and, therefore, are allowed regardless of pet policy.
- If your client needs extra accessibility in their home, you’ll need to provide it.
DO: Double Check Everything, Especially Employment.
Make sure you double check your applicant’s source of income, and the amount they are receiving, is legitimate. Call their employer or use online resources to guarantee the information your prospective tenant put on their application. As with every part of the application process, don’t cut corners or work too quickly! Instead, take your time to confirm that every answer is factual.
DO: Know What Criminal Offenses Warrant Rejection
A criminal background check is a standard part of a screening process. However, not all criminal offenses warrant immediate rejection. Pay special attention to criminal offenses committed recently, and criminal offenses that involve damage to property or violent felonies against people. Remember— accepting an applicant that has been convicted of a violent felony could lead to lawsuits by your current tenants, so take this seriously.
DO: Ask For A Guarantor For Someone With No Credit History
Some of your applicants might have no credit scores. Students and recent graduates, in particular, are likely not to have a robust credit history. Just because an applicant doesn’t have credit history, doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad tenant. However, you do need to make sure that they have a guarantor. In fact, renting to students who name their parents are guarantors is often safe— parents of university age student rarely default on rent.
DO: Check With Your Local Attorney
Staying legal is of the utmost importance! There’s a lot of information you need to know, and laws regarding the application process can differ across the US, so if anything is confusing or there’s still some unanswered questions, consult a local attorney who is well versed in both federal and state laws! They’ll have the know-how on answering tricky questions, and keep will you on the right side of the law.
DON’T: Ignore Past Rental History
Pay close attention to how the client has faired in other rentals! Past rental history is the most accurate indicator of how your applicant will preform, so this is probably the most important part of your client screening process. If you have a borderline tenant, it’s a good idea to make this the deciding factor.
DON’T: Ignore Credit History
Credit history is important, and a poor credit score doesn’t bode well. Be wary of stories detailing how the tenant’s credit score got so low. There’s lots of legitimate reasons why a client might have a credit score that’s not top notch, of course! But your priority is always protecting your property. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend that you trust a good-gut feeling you get from an applicant—numbers speak way louder!
DON’T: Violate FCRA, ADA, or Fair Housing
These dos and don’ts of tenant screening is a great place to start, but remember that Intentional or unintentional violations of protective laws will get you into serious trouble. Make sure that your application does not include any questions that would reveal if your applicant is a member of a protected class, read over how to keep ADA compliant, and never reject an applicant based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability!
Giving the apartment to the correct tenant is a big decision, and, ultimately, your own. Choosing a good tenant who respects other residents and your property, and who pays rent diligently and on time is crucial for the success of your property.
AND ONE FINAL DO: Use A Screening System You Trust
Looking for a screening system you can trust? Apply Now by Rental Beast is a powerful online application engine that landlords trust to help them choose the right tenant quickly and securely. Landlords can easily send clients a user-friendly application, and receive credit scores, eviction history, and background (where applicable) quickly. All sensitive information is viewable in a secure, online portal, so you can make an informed choice.
Learn more about Apply Now, and Rental Beast’s suite of free tools built for landlords success.