Screening Tenants to Avoid Eviction

Written on Wednesday March 20, 2019 by Bob Hinrichs

For most property managers, evicting a tenant is an absolute worst-case-scenario. It’s a last resort they hope they don’t ever have to encounter because it can be a complete headache that drains their time and resources. Unfortunately, they still happen on occasion; however, there is a way to severely limit (and potentially even eliminate) eviction issues altogether… The secret? Screening tenants properly.

If you look at the most common reasons evictions are initiated, you’ll find cases of unpaid rent, property damage, lease violations, and consistent disturbances of other tenants. As simple as it sounds, if you can avoid these issues, you can avoid eviction and all the complications that come with it. But, since you can’t tell the future, how can you know whether or not a prospective tenant will cause these issues? Well, there are a few screening steps you can take to get a pretty good grasp on how an individual will behave as a tenant.

Step One: Require an Application

Ideally, you would require the prospective tenant to submit their application in person so you can show them the property as well. While this may not always be possible due to relocations or other limitations, try to make it a common practice. Having the applicant meet you in person will also allow you to learn more about their level of responsibility and respect. If they show up late and with no heads up, it can be a warning that they are either unorganized or just value their time more than yours.

The condition their application is in is also a great indicator of their organization. If it looks like it just got pulled out of a gym bag rather than nice and crisp, they may not keep a tidy space. These aren’t extremely scientific guides, but can help gauge a first impression. Lastly, require an application fee. Not only will it filter out any tenants who aren’t serious, it also covers costs associated with step two.

Step Two: Perform Checks

Contrary to step one, step two is about as objective as you can get when it comes to screening your prospective tenants. Run both a background check and a credit check on the individual based on the information you gathered from their application. The reason these reports are so helpful is because they are entirely fact-based and paint a picture of the person’s past.

A clear criminal background check can show not only a high level of responsibility, but it is also a great sign that the person respects authority and rules. This is important because your lease is basically the law of your property, so you want to find people who will follow said law. On the flip side, if you find a long track record of legal trouble, it’s a red flag that can indicate future headaches if you rent to that individual.

A credit check can act in a similar way, but more specifically, it’s a useful resource for getting a grasp on the individual’s financial responsibility. Remember, one of the common eviction causes you want to avoid is nonpayment of rent. If the individual has a poor credit score and history, it typically means they don’t pay their bills on time (if at all). If they don’t pay their other bills, why will rent be any different? Accepting a tenant with a poor credit history is the perfect way to ensure future problems for yourself.

Step Three: Talk to References

There are two different types of references you’ll want to speak to – employers and past landlords. Employers can verify the income the prospective tenant listed on their application. The common guideline property managers follow is to find tenants who earn 3+ times the monthly rent amount. For example, if you’re renting your property for $1,000 per month, you should only accept tenants who make $3,000 or more per month.

Once you verify their financial stability, reach out to past landlords to learn what it’s like to rent to them. Ask them specific questions such as:

  • What condition did the tenant leave the property in when they moved out?
  • Did they miss rent payments or pay late?
  • Did they ever cause disturbances for other tenants?
  • Were there ever any issues with the tenant following lease terms?

There is no one who will be able to answer these types of questions better than a past landlord. As we alluded to previously, the main goal of these steps is to establish a pattern of financial responsibility as well as respect for rules and other people. If you find someone who passes each step with flying colors, hand them a key because they’re likely your most ideal tenant. Chances are, they won’t cause any problems. On the flip side, if your prospective tenant shows red flags in each step, follow the rules of baseball: three strikes, they’re out! For any individual in the middle, use your best judgment upon meeting them and just accept that they’ll be a little riskier than the ideal renter. Please remember that while these steps will help limit evictions substantially, there is no perfect preventative that works 100% of the time.

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