Tenant Screening Checklist: How to Choose Ideal Tenants

Learn how to create and use a tenant screening checklist to find reliable and responsible tenants for your rental property.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
November 16, 2023
Tenant Screening Checklist: How to Choose Ideal Tenants

As a landlord, finding responsible, trustworthy tenants is key to a hassle-free rental experience. But how can you choose ideal tenants for your property?

This article explains how a tenant screening checklist can help you find and select reliable tenants. The checklist covers credit checks, income verification, rental history, background checks, and calling references.

Following a checklist helps you make the best choices for your property. It helps avoid problems like missed rent payments or property damage. Follow along for tips to screen and find ideal tenants!

What is a tenant screening checklist?

A tenant screening checklist is a helpful tool for landlords to evaluate potential tenants before renting out a property. It outlines the information and steps needed to assess if a prospective tenant is a good fit for their rental property.

Why use a checklist?

With so many facets of property management requiring a landlord's attention on a daily basis, any tools that help keep operations organized are welcomed. Choosing the right tenant for your rental property is a pivotal step in the property management journey, and a tenant screening checklist can help you consistently make the right decision.

Here are the ways a checklist benefits landlords:

  • Fairness: A checklist makes sure that landlords treat all potential tenants equally by evaluating them based on the same set of criteria. It helps prevent any bias or discrimination.
  • Consistency: Landlords can consistently assess each potential tenant and compare their qualifications.
  • Time-saving: A checklist simplifies tenant screening by providing a structured approach. Landlords can quickly gather information and documents from applicants, saving time and effort.
  • Property protection: A checklist will remind landlords to verify a tenant's employment, income, rental history, and creditworthiness. This reduces the risk of renting to someone who may be unable to pay rent or may cause damage to the property.
  • Peace of mind: A detailed screening process helps landlords find reliable and responsible tenants. It gives them peace of mind, knowing that their property is in good hands and tenants will pay rent on time.

Components of a tenant screening checklist

Now that we've covered the key benefits checklists offer landlords, let's look at what should actually be included in a screening checklist.

Application form

The first step in the screening process is to have the potential tenant complete an application form. This form collects their full name, contact details, employment history, and references.

Credit check

A credit check inspects the tenant's financial history and credit report. It allows you to see if the applicant pays bills on time and manages debt well. To help ensure you're accepting a tenant who will make consistent rent payments, you can set a minimum credit score you will accept.

Income verification

It's important to verify the applicant's monthly income to make sure that they can afford the rent. Create a policy for the minimum rent-to-income ratio that you will consider for tenants -- commonly, landlords require an income that's 3 times the cost of a month's rent.

Rental history

Checking the tenant's rental history provides insights into their previous behavior as a tenant, including their track record of paying rent on time. Landlords may contact the previous landlord to gather information about the tenant's reliability in making rent payments, complying to the lease, and whether they caused any issues during their tenancy.

Employment verification

This involves verifying the applicant's current employment status and contacting their employer to make sure that the tenant has a reliable and steady source of income.

Criminal background check

Conducting a criminal background check helps confirm the safety of other tenants and the property. Check for criminal convictions and criminal records. However, keep in mind that just because a person has a criminal background doesn't necessarily mean they would be a threat to your property, so be judicious and fair in your evaluation on a case-by-case basis.

Eviction history

Checking an applicant's history for past evictions helps landlords understand if the applicant is guilty of non-payment of rent or violating lease terms. It helps assess the tenant's reliability and adherence to rental agreements.

Reference checks

Talking to the tenant's personal and work references provides a more comprehensive view of the tenant's personality and behavior. Landlords can ask the references if the tenant is reliable and responsible.

Remember that while all of these individual elements of a tenant screening checklist are important, they need to be evaluated in conjunction with one another to get the full picture of a tenant. Lead the screening process with context and empathy, and you'll find the best fit for your rental property.

Gather documents from applicants

Along with anecdotal evidence from the tenant's past landlords and roommates, you should gather physical documents as part of the screening process. Here are some key documents to ask the applicant for:

  • Proof of income: Request proof of income, such as recent pay stubs or an employment verification letter, to verify that the tenant has a stable source of income and can afford the rent.
  • Photo identification: Ask for a copy of the applicant's photo identification, such as a driver's license or passport. It helps verify their identity and confirm that they are who they say they are.
  • Previous rental history: By requesting the names and contact information of previous landlords, you can then reach out and ask these previous landlords for lease agreements and any eviction records to get an idea of the applicant's past behavior as a tenant.
  • Consent for background check: Request written permission from the applicant to conduct a background check. With permission, you can verify their criminal history and credit history, among other relevant information.

Handle all requested documents in compliance with applicable data privacy laws and regulations. Safeguard the information provided by applicants and use it solely for tenant screening.

How to use a tenant screening checklist

Once you have your tenant screening checklist in place, you're ready to start receiving applications. Here are the instructions for using the tenant screening checklist:

Step 1: Communicate clear criteria

Clearly explain what you're looking for in a tenant. Let potential tenants know about your requirements, such as having a steady income, a good rental history, and responsible behavior. Being up front about your expectations allows applicants to decide if they meet your criteria before they apply.

Step 2: Application process and form submission

Provide interested potential tenants with an application form to fill out. Be sure to get vital pieces of information like their contact details, work history, and rental history.

Explain how and where they should submit the completed form, whether online, in person, or through the mail.

Step 3: Conduct thorough background checks

Once you receive the application forms, and with the applicant's permission, conduct background checks. Verify the prospective tenant's employment, contact previous landlords for references, and check credit report history.

Step 4: Evaluate the results and make decisions

Evaluate the results of the background checks after gathering all the necessary information. Compare the applicant's information with your rental criteria to see if they meet your requirements.

Look at things like income, rental history, and references. Once you have the full picture, decide whether the applicant is a good fit for your rental unit.

Step 5: Follow legal requirements and fair housing laws

Follow all legal requirements and fair housing laws when using the tenant screening checklist. Treat every applicant equally and avoid discrimination based on religion, sex, race, color, national origin, disability, or family status. Follow local laws and regulations to confirm compliance.

Other considerations for screening

There are a few more things to consider beyond the basic checklist when evaluating potential tenants for your property. Here are some additional factors to keep in mind:

Face-to-face interviews

While reviewing an applicant on paper can provide valuable information, a face-to-face interview can give you a better sense of the applicant. Meeting in person lets you assess their demeanor, communication skills, and overall impression.

Assessing compatibility

Make sure that the prospective tenant will be compatible with the rules and regulations of your property. Discuss the property's policies with the applicant during the screening process. Assess if they are willing to follow the rules and maintain a respectful relationship with neighbors.

Proactive communication with tenants

A positive landlord-tenant relationship requires effective and proactive communication. Observe how responsive and communicative the applicant is during the screening process. Look for signs that indicate they will be responsible and prompt in addressing any concerns or issues that may arise during their tenancy.

Tips for screening

The combination of a thorough checklist, face-to-face meetings, and these tips below will set you up for success in the tenant screening process.

Establish tenant screening criteria

Establish clear criteria for what you're looking for in a tenant before you start the screening process. This can include a stable income, a good rental history, and responsible behavior. Having these criteria in place will help you evaluate applicants more effectively as they go through the rental application process.

Pre-screen tenants

Save time by pre-screening tenants before they fill out an application. Ask them basic questions about their income, rental history, and reason for moving to see if they meet your initial requirements. It can help you filter out applicants who may not be a good fit early on.

Avoid rushing the process

Take your time when screening tenants. Rushing through the process can lead to overlooking important details that could cost you down the line. Carefully review each application, conduct background checks, and contact references to confirm that you have all the necessary information you need to make a decision.

Leverage technology

In this digital age, there are numerous digital platforms at your disposal to help facilitate the screening process. Azibo's online platform can help you collect and organize applicant information, conduct background checks, and even automate specific tasks as part of your online tenant screening process.

Document everything

Keep documentation of the entire tenant screening process. This includes application forms, background check results, correspondence with applicants, and any notes from phone calls or interviews. Having proper documentation helps protect you legally and ensures transparency throughout the process.

Tools and services

You don't have to go through the tenant screening process alone. With the below tools in your toolbox, you can feel supported and confident as you pick the best tenants for your property.

  • Online rental applications: Property management platforms like Azibo allow tenants to fill out their information digitally instead of dealing with paper applications.
  • Online background check providers: These platforms let you run background checks on prospective tenants. They search public records and databases for criminal records, evictions, and other relevant information.
  • Rental history databases: Some websites compile information about tenants' rental history and behavior. These databases give insights into an applicant's past rental experiences and any issues they may have had with previous landlords.

Remember to comply with fair housing laws and respect applicants' privacy throughout the process.

Everything you need to know about the tenant screening checklist

A tenant screening checklist is a helpful tool for landlords and property managers. It ensures that they choose the right tenants, leading to a more secure and successful rental experience for everyone.

Taking the time to thoroughly screen applicants and using a checklist can give landlords peace of mind that they have done their due diligence in finding responsible tenants.

Tenant screening checklist FAQs

How long should the tenant screening process take?

The duration of the tenant screening process depends on factors such as the number of applicants, response times for reference checks, and the availability of necessary documentation. Landlords should maintain a reasonable timeframe while conducting a thorough evaluation.

What should I do if a tenant fails the screening process?

If you deny an applicant, let them know kindly and explain why. Follow any local rules about rejecting tenants.

What happens if I skip the tenant screening process?

Skipping tenant screening can create problems and increase the likelihood of negative experiences as a landlord. Invest the time to screen potential tenants properly to protect your investment for the best rental experience.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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