Amateur Landlord: Picking the Right Tenant

by Bryce Baschuk


For property owners looking to rent out a portion of their home, it is important to know that tenant screening is an essential part of the landlord process.

As a landlord you want to ensure three things about your prospective tenant:

  • That the individual can pay their rent regularly and on time.
  • That their income and employment are stable.
  • That they have a positive track record of responsible renting.

“Don’t rely on gut feeling alone,” Rick Gersten, founder of UrbanIgloo.com, a residential rental brokerage firm, told UrbanTurf. “When it comes to verifying tenants, you should rely on substantive information.”

The first and most fundamental way to collect substantive information on prospective tenants is to have them complete a tenant application form. An example of a tenant application form can be found here. Gersten suggests that amateur landlords use a combination of three documents when verifying a tenant: a credit application form, a landlord verification form and an employment verification form.

“As a landlord you want to make sure that your tenant has been accountable to their landlords and their employers in the past,” Gersten explained. “You also want to make sure that the information they provide is legitimate and correct.”

Some landlords use screening services provided by private companies, while others will investigate the information personally. Either way, landlords should conduct a background check, call past landlords and current employers and run a credit check. Using an objective national credit reporting agency can help landlords determine if their prospective tenant has had any history of late payments. The three main credit score monitoring bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

While there are no strict guidelines for landlords to determine a credit score benchmark, most current American FICO scores are in the 750-799 range, according to a July statement issued by Fair Isaac Corporation. “I haven’t seen any landlords accept anything under 650, said Gersten. “That doesn’t mean landlords won’t accept scores under 650, I just haven’t seen anyone do it.” If you deny a tenant’s application based on information gleaned from reviewing their credit score, you must let the tenant know why you chose to reject them.

Finally, it is illegal to refuse to rent to a tenant for discriminatory reasons. According to the District of Columbia’s Office of the Tenant Advocate it is illegal to refuse tenants for any of the following reasons: race, color, national origin, sex, age, source of income, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, parental status, personal appearance, physical handicap, political affiliations, place of residence or business, or student status. It is also illegal to refuse to rent to someone because they would pay the rent using a Section 8 voucher.

“The bottom line is you treat everyone equally,” said Gersten.

See other articles related to: renting in dc, amateur landlord

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/amateur_landlord_picking_the_right_tenant/2391


  1. anonymous said at 10:55 am on Thursday August 19, 2010:

    Good info. Something I’ve wondered about, though: is it legal to discriminate based on how many people will live in the apartment, or charge more based on the number of occupants? (Within the safe limits). I’ve actually seen ads like this, where say, for a 1br they won’t rent to 2 people or for a 4br house they won’t rent to more than 3 people.

  1. SW said at 12:13 pm on Thursday August 19, 2010:

    Why wouldn’t you rent to more than three people for a 4BR? That’s just ridiculous.

  1. RentLaw.com said at 2:51 pm on Thursday August 19, 2010:

    For smaller landlords, it may be hard for them to run a credit check. There are certain laws that apply regarding privacy. RentLaw.com offers a tenant screening service with their partners. see rentlaw.mysmartmove.com
    As far as number of people - landlords have to be careful not to discriminate based on family status. Some towns do have restrictions based on the national building code. One person to a bedroom of 70 sq ft (minimum size). Two people is 120 sq feet.

    Face it, many tenants overcrowd. They have to. Money is tight.

  1. Mo said at 1:37 pm on Monday August 23, 2010:

    Also, does anyone know if it’s illegal to discriminate based on security clearances? If someone had a top-secret clearance issued by the government, it would already indicate decent credit and no serious criminal past.  If you have a TS clearance, you’re also very unlikely to get laid off anytime soon.

  1. monademarkpv said at 3:13 pm on Friday October 3, 2014:

    I have had people ask me if I take vouchers and I didn’t know what they were talking about at the time and later found out they were talking about section 8 vouchers. There is a process you have to go through to accept these vouchers. Is it discrimination if you choose not to go through that process? They have to inspect your place and that takes time and if you have other people who are ready to move in now would you be forced to go through the process?

  1. TomCarcone said at 3:24 pm on Wednesday February 25, 2015:

    The need for thorough screening cannot be overstated. Many clients come to us after having an experience with a tenant who caused damage, didn’t pay rent on time or worse. And the vast majority of the time, these problems can be avoided by using a systematic screening process like the one outlined in this article.

    But the truth is, creating a stringent process and following it every time isn’t always easy for landlords doing it themselves. It is critical to be both thorough (check credit, criminal and court records, rental history and employment along with multiple references) and fair (don’t discriminate or ask questions that may appear discriminatory).  The benefit of working with a qualified professional, even if you simply do so for leasing and/or screening not ongoing management, is that they have a vetted process in place and the experience, time and resources to execute it properly every time.

    Thomas Carcone, Gordon James Realty

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