Best Practices for Tenant Screening in Prince George’s County - article banner

The purpose of a detailed and thorough tenant screening process is to ensure you place a well-qualified renter in your property. Good tenants will consistently pay rent on time, take care of the home, and follow the terms of the lease agreement. A good screening process is essential to a safe and successful rental experience.

As experienced property managers, we have some best practices to keep in mind as you screen tenants for your Prince George’s County rental property.

Establish Rental Qualifying Criteria

Start with a set of standards that must be met before a tenant can be approved to rent your property. You can set income standards, credit standards, and list other requirements for tenants to evaluate before they spend their time and resources applying. Most tenants expect that they will have to meet reasonable requirements before they can be offered a lease agreement. If you have your written criteria available, they can decide whether or not they’re likely to be approved.

Having a documented set of criteria will also protect you against any potentially expensive fair housing mistakes. When you’re screening tenants, you aren’t allowed to consider things like race, religion, disability, or familial status. A documented set of criteria will demonstrate the objective standards that every applicant must meet.

Pre-Screen Potential Prince George’s County Tenants before Showings

In addition to weeding out unqualified tenants with your rental criteria, you can also do a bit of pre-screening before you even show them the property. This will protect your time and ensure that only well-qualified individuals are showing up to see the property.

Do a bit of pre-screening when you have people calling or sending messages to request more information about your property. You can do this by simply asking a few basic questions. You can make sure an individual is a good fit for your home without violating any fair housing requirements. What you’re really doing is bringing your screening criteria out in the open to see how they measure up against it. Answer any questions these potential tenants have when they call, and then ask a few of your own. These might include:

  • When do you plan to move?
  • Why do you want to move?
  • How many people will be living in the property?
  • Do you own any pets?
  • Do you have any previous evictions?
  • How much income do you earn?

The answers to these questions will tell you whether your property is right for the person who wants to see it. There’s no sense in showing the home to someone who won’t be ready to move for three months. You also don’t want to show the property if you know right away that your income standards won’t be met.

Provide a Thorough Rental Application

Every potential tenant who is 18 years of age or older will need to complete an application and pay an application fee. While you’ll still want to gather information on any minors who may be living at the property, they won’t be financially responsible for the unit, so you don’t have to collect applications on them.

Provide a written application for all interested tenants that collects all the pertinent information including:

  • Full legal names
  • Contact information
  • Social security and driver’s license numbers
  • Current and past addresses
  • Employment information
  • Landlord references

Your application must also provide permission for you to conduct a background check and a credit check on your prospective tenant. Make sure they give you a signature that allows you to do the necessary checking.

Good tenants who are serious about renting your property are likely to fill out the application completely and quickly. Most of today’s tenants want to move as fast as you do and they will appreciate an online application rather than one they need to fill out with a pen and drop off or send through the mail. Make the process as convenient and secure as possible for those residents.

To properly screen tenants, you’ll need documentation such as a copy of their government-issued I.D. Your application process should have the tools that allow them to securely upload those documents to you. If you don’t have a system that supports this, consider working with a Prince George’s County property management company or a screening company so this entire process is automated for you and your prospective tenant.

When you provide your application to prospective tenants, don’t forget to give them your application criteria as well.

Checking Credit Reports and Financial Stability

You’ll need to check credit because it gives you a good financial picture of the person who wants to rent your home. Don’t accept a credit report that a prospective tenant hands you. Get the information directly from the credit bureau, and make sure you ask for both a credit score and a full credit report.

Some landlords are looking for perfect credit, and honestly, that’s going to be hard to find. What you’re really looking for with the credit check is that the applicant can meet their financial obligations on time.

It’s also important to look for any past evictions. Sometimes, these show up on a credit check but they might also show up when you check court records. When you’re looking for a tenant, recent evictions are especially problematic. You also don’t want to see multiple evictions in the applicant’s past. This is an indication that they may have trouble paying rent, even if they have the income to support it.

A single eviction 15 years ago may not matter, especially if they’ve done a good job of establishing a stable and positive rental history since then. Decide how you want to handle evictions. Many property managers and landlords have a zero-tolerance policy. Others are willing to consider tenants with older and non-recurring evictions on their record.

Check the credit and court records for any bankruptcies or judgments against the applicant. Situations where money is still owed to a former landlord or apartment complex are upsetting because if the tenant didn’t pay those landlords, you might find yourself trying to collect money from them as well.

Set your standards but make sure they’re reasonable. More important than their credit card debt is how they’ve treated their housing-related bills. Medical debt and student loan debt are common. Are there utility accounts in collections? A string of foreclosures? These are more concerning when you’re screening.

Ask for Income Verification from Prospective Tenants

At its most basic function, a screening process lets you know if a potential tenant can pay rent. This is perhaps the most important thing you need to know when you’re screening prospective tenants for your Prince George’s County rental home.

Industry standards say that a reliable tenant will earn at least three times the amount of rent.

Verifying an applicant’s income can be as easy as contacting the employer or reviewing the documentation that’s submitted. Measure what’s earned against the amount of rent you’re collecting. You want to be sure your tenants can afford the rent you’re charging. Don’t set them up for failure by permitting someone who doesn’t earn enough to move into your property.

This income requirement should cover all of the tenants who are moving into the property. So, adult partners who earn their own salaries can combine that income to meet your requirements. If there are roommates, combine all the earned income when you’re doing the math.

Verifying the income by asking for copies of the last two pay stubs or gathering employment contracts and tax returns. For self-employed individuals, bank statements can be useful so they can show you the deposits that are made.

Conduct Rental Reference Checks

Rental history is an important part of the screening process. Talk to current and former landlords, and ask whether they would rent to the tenant again. If they say no, you’ll want to ask for details. Find out if rent was paid on time, if any property damage was left behind, if the lease was violated, and if enough notice was given before the tenant moved out.

Once you’ve exhausted all of these screening details, consider the entire application. You’ll want to run a criminal background check as well and maybe do a pet screening if there are pets moving in.

Then, you’ll have to issue an approval or a denial. Put everything in writing and make sure you document when and why the approval or denial notification went out.

It’s easy to make a mistake when you’re screening tenants. It’s easy to miss important red flags and it’s easy to focus on something that might make you think twice but really doesn’t indicate that the tenant will be a risk. Working with professional property managers who have done this for years can be a huge benefit.

Tenant screening processIf you need some help, we’d be happy to provide it. Please contact us at Stripe Management. We work with owners, investors, and properties in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s County, Washington, D.C., Capitol Heights, District Heights, Baltimore, and anywhere in the DC metro area.