It goes without saying that not all tenants are created equal. Every landlord who has ever rented out a house, apartment, or even just a single room can probably tell a slew of horror stories about bad tenants and the myriad problems they cause, and those types of tenants are precisely what you should try to avoid if you’re new to the property rental game. Luckily, you can tell a lot about a tenant through a combination of background check information and strategic interview questions. In turn, the information you acquire can help you to discern between the good tenants and the bad tenants.
But what information should you be looking for through background checks and interview sessions? What secrets from your prospective tenant’s past can clue you into a problem renter who you don’t want to deal with? Read on for eight things every landlord should know about their tenants before putting pen to paper on a lease document.
1. Their criminal history: For your own safety, as well as the safety of your other tenants, you will want to include a criminal background check as part of your tenant screening process. This will allow you to assess each tenant and determine whether they pose a threat to your safety, your property, or your reputation as a landlord. A convicted murderer or rapist obviously presents a potential danger to your tenant community, while someone who has been caught running a meth lab out of an apartment in the past is a safety and property risk. Don’t simply discriminate against tenants with criminal history – some are truly trying to get their lives back on track – but don’t sign a lease with someone you are not comfortable with either.
2. Their income: Most landlords won’t even consider a tenant who isn’t making between two and three times the cost of rent in any given month. No landlord wants to deal with a tenant who can’t come up with payments on time, so a person who isn’t making enough money to afford an apartment is almost always disqualified from consideration.
3. Their credit history: Sometimes, income doesn’t tell the whole story on whether or not a tenant will be able to afford monthly rent. Therefore, a look at said tenant’s credit history can help a landlord to assess the tenant’s ability to manage money and make timely payments. Sizable debts are usually a red flag, as they can divert a tenant’s income in other directions and prevent them from making the rent. Late or unpaid credit cards, meanwhile, are often a disqualifying factor, since they generally are the mark of a person who is not on top of their monthly expenses.
4. Their eviction history: Plain and simple, if a tenant has ever been evicted by a former landlord, you want to know about it so that you don’t make the mistake of signing a lease with them. Eviction processes can take the better part of a year, involve the headache of numerous court appearances, and leave you too burned out to find a replacement tenant. Check your prospective tenant’s civil history to see if he or she has ever been involved in an eviction claim; if so, don’t think twice about disqualifying them from consideration.
5. Their references: Any high-quality tenant screening process will include a reference check. As a landlord, you want to speak to former landlords or employers who have dealt with or worked with your prospective tenant in the past. Often, these reference checks are your best avenue to hearing how a tenant will behave if you sign a lease with them, from making payments on time to taking care of your property. Ask former landlords and employers to speak candidly. If you get the sense that your prospective tenant is a deadbeat, disrespectful, late-paying person, pass on their application. If you only hear good things, however, then there’s a good chance you’ve found a landlord’s dream tenant.
6. Their reason for moving: Here’s one “secret” that many landlords forget to ask about when interviewing future tenants. People can have a wide range of reasons for wanting to move, from a new job to a relationship that has recently ended. Chances are that each tenant will have a short and sweet answer to the “why are you moving?” question. However, if you get the sense that your prospective tenant is moving due to a relationship-gone-sour with a former landlord, you may want to think twice about moving forward with their application. In most cases, a tenant won’t reveal landlord troubles to you since they know it is a red flag, but you can usually tell from the way they answer this question – including their tone of voice and their body language – whether or not they are hiding something.
7. Their plans for moving: Another interview question, “when are you planning on moving?” is an important piece of information for any landlord to know. Not only will the answer tell you how on top of things your prospective tenants are (an applicant who responds “this afternoon” obviously hasn’t planned things out very well), but it will also key you into people who are desperate to find a place. In most cases, tenants who fit that description have something messy in their past that they aren’t telling you about.
8. Their aliases: Has your tenant used previous identities in the past? Running an alias search will help you to determine to answer that question. You may find yourself uncovering a notorious identity thief, or finding someone who skips from state to state and residence to residence without settling lease payments. In any case, someone with a slew of aliases under his or her belt is usually not the most honest person in the world, and is therefore not a great tenant prospect. Keep looking.
By digging up these secrets, a landlord can get to know their prospective tenants better and make more educated decisions about who is trustworthy and safe and who is not. Interviews and background checks may take time and a bit of money, but they are worth it in the long run for the headaches they can help you to avoid.