If you get tenant screening right, life as a landlord is nice.
If you get tenant screening wrong, life as a landlord is horrific.
So, it’s imperative you get your screening process right. A lot of landlords struggle with this because they rely on their intuition. They meet a potential tenant and size them up and then make a decision without doing any background screening or paperwork. Don’t do that.
It’s important to do a full background screening. It’s also important to have written rental standards that are consistent. Don’t be haphazard and apply them to some applicants but not others. That can get you into a lot of fair housing trouble.
At Penny Realty, we look at a few key areas when we screen tenants.
Confirming Identity of Your Applicants
First, are they who they say they are? You want to get a government-issued ID and a social security number, which you will use to run background checks and gather information about their criminal, financial, and residential records.
Check for Financial Responsibility
Does your applicant have a history of paying bills on time? To find out, we recommend that you run a complete credit check and look at their credit history. We require a FICO score of 650 or higher. Make sure you run your own credit check. Some tenants will try to hand you a copy of their credit report to avoid the credit check, but don’t accept that. Gather the information yourself, and look for an extensive history of paying bills late or accounts going into collection. Unlawful detainers or evictions should kill the deal right away.
Verify Income Will Meet Rental Requirements
Can your applicants afford the monthly rent? Check income, and make sure it’s at least two-and-a-half times more than rent. Verify the income through W-2 forms, tax returns, paystubs, or a combination of all these things. You don’t want to take your applicant’s word for it. Verify how much they earn by asking for proof.
Talk to Former Landlords and Establish Rental History
Will your applicant be a good resident and take care of the property? We recommend you call the prior two landlords, if you can. It’s also a good idea to do criminal checks in all 50 states. Make sure you comply with fair housing laws when you conduct those criminal background checks. There are certain reasons you can deny a tenant and certain reasons that you cannot. Finally, make sure you collect an application fee or a screening fee from the prospective tenants. This is a good way to compensate you for the time and effort that goes into running a thorough background check. It also gives the tenant some skin in the game, and you won’t get unqualified people applying for your property. The most you can charge in California in 2018 is $49.
Our website offers information on our complete 11-point screening process, and can be a great resource for San Diego landlords. If you have any questions about tenant screening or property management in San Diego, please contact us at Penny Realty.