Screening tenants for better sleep

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 4 min. read

Published on August 12, 2008

The alarm clock goes off. It’s a beautiful morning … but you don’t want to get out of bed. You’re chasing a tenant for delinquent rent and it’s making your life difficult. You remember having a pretty good feeling about this person during the tenant screening process … so what happened? What information could you have gathered or had her provide to avoid this situation? offers the information and tools you need to help find good tenants and screen out the problem ones.

Get the real identification information.
By far, a state driver’s license is the best option for identification purposes. If your potential tenant drove a car into your parking lot, don’t listen to excuses. Expired driver’s licenses should be a red flag for landlords and property managers. It might just be an applicant’s attempt at withholding current information.

Get contact information … plenty of it.
Whether your would-be tenant calls his mom on Mother’s Day or not, you want her phone number and address. A mother will always know how to reach her child, even if that child skips out on paying you rent. Getting employers, friends, and family contact information is important in every case … no exceptions. And when you can, get cell phone numbers because they tend to change less frequently than home numbers. (Also, cell phones allow you to make like a C.S.I. detective—you might just track that delinquent tenant with GPS!)

Obtain employment and rental references.
Another must-have item on your rental application is employment verification information. Be sure to get past employers’ names and contact information. Also be sure to verify your tenant’s income. If her employer doesn’t want to give you an income figure, give a range to which the employer can respond. If a tenant is self-employed, ask for a copy of her tax return. However you have to do it, make sure that you really check out rental references. If your potential tenant left holes in the walls and stains on the floor of a previous apartment, you need to know.

Run credit and background checks.
The next step in tenant verification is a credit check. You need to know if the applicant pays his bills and if he has a history of bankruptcy or suits for unpaid rents. And, of course, if he has a criminal record, you may just want to think twice before renting that apartment. A word of caution on that note, though; believe it or not, it could be illegal to discriminate against applicants based on their criminal record. Check your state laws.

Cover yourself with secured payment and adequate deposits.
The college student who wants to rent your property may be likable, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to consistently pay her rent. You may need to require a parent or other relative to sign on as a guarantor. After all, if dad isn’t willing to sign on with his daughter, it might be a sign that you shouldn’t either.

Deposits provide peace of mind when it comes to receiving regular rental payment and a unit that’s left in good condition. Many states have laws about how much you can require in rental, pet, and security deposits; be sure to find out what yours are. Working within the confines of state and federal law, ask for deposits in amounts that will allow you a peaceful night’s rest. If both first and last months’ rent seems necessary, don’t think twice about asking for it. Oh, and if your tenant’s pooch is named Godzilla, you may be wise to require an extra pet deposit.

Read more on Leasing
Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

Be a more productive
property manager