How Do I Screen Tenants?


For landlords and rental property managers, screening tenants is one of the most critical and difficult tasks to perform properly. Although the majority of prospective tenants are decent people who treat the rental property with respect, occasionally a bad tenant can slip through the screening process, leading to financial losses, property damage, or legal liabilities. Though not every tenant can be a great tenant, a comprehensive screening and vetting system can help increase the odds of finding reputable tenants. Tenant screening begins with the first meeting during which you spend time showing your property and getting to know prospective tenants. While this first impression is important and will have a significant impact on the final decision, you cannot rely on instinct alone. This is where the rental application comes in.

Request an Application From Your Tenant

A basic rental application will help you gain a better picture of the financial stability and personal history of each prospective tenant, allowing you to see beyond the first impression to spot a potential bad tenant before the lease is signed. Many organizations can provide sample applications, such as local real estate associations or internet sites, which you can customize to fit your needs and the local laws for your area. Each applicant should supply the following information:

  • Current income: Be sure the applicant can afford the rent comfortably, which should be about 30% of total income.
  • Credit information: This should include details about credit cards, bank balances, and any outstanding debts. Ideal tenants should have minimal debt and sufficient emergency reserves.
  • Employment: Details about current and previous employers, including contact information, employment periods, and reasons for leaving.
  • Previous rentals: Details about previous rentals, including contact information, rental periods, and reasons for leaving.
  • Occupancy: Number of people and pets that will occupy the rental property.

Be sure that the rental application also requests permission for credit and background checks. Review each completed form carefully, and discuss any missing information with potential tenants to determine if they are obscuring information purposely.

Check Your Potential Tenant’s References

Checking references is also important to build a complete picture of prospective tenants, though they should be considered carefully for bias. Contact previous employers to learn more about prospective tenants and their personal histories and reliability. Ask previous landlords about payment histories, how the property was treated, and problems with neighbors or authorities. Finally, interview each potential tenant, and ask about issues like work schedule, smoking, visitors, roommates, and pets. Discuss your expectations and any issues the tenant may have. Once you are satisfied that you have a great tenant, you can start the lease process.

Property Management Services in Maryland

At Tidewater Property Management, we can help you find the perfect tenants for your property, allowing you to protect your assets while avoiding the intensive screening process. Contact us today at (443) 548-0191 for more information!