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Two Never-Fail Tenant Screening Strategies

Lawmakers in a small enclave in upstate New York reportedly are considering a bylaw that will force landlords there to do a better job screening tenants. The move comes after local residents organized a petition drive and presented it at a town meeting.


While the measure would affect only a small number of landlords, this is one of the more vocal and organized attempts to solve a common problem that plagues landlords across the country. Whether it’s drugs or rowdy student parties, local homeowners who feel invested in their neighborhoods blame landlords when tenants act out. Inevitably, police resources are directed toward rental properties, and landlords stand to lose through increased fees, mandatory training, or fines.


Of course, it’s a good idea to screen tenants, but a law that dictates what a landlord can or can’t do may not be the answer. For instance, if the law is too narrow in scope, a landlord may become complacent and only follow the minimum required. That can make the problem worse. These kinds of regulations tend to create an unfortunate backlash. Tenant advocates push back and lobby for rental regulations that actually block landlords from discovering key information that would otherwise flag a problem tenant.


Whether you are subject to local screening rules or not, there are two tenant screening strategies that remain reliable when it comes to choosing the best tenants:


Go All-in With Tenant Screening


There’s no way to cut corners with tenant background checks without risking missed information, and there is no one report that alone will give you everything you need to know. The most successful tenant screening strategy is to use multiple reports so that you see the prospective tenant from many different angles. Often, it’s a contradiction between reports or the rental application that flags a potential problem. Generally, a rental application, a credit check, an eviction report, and a criminal background check together will yield results than a credit report or criminal check alone can’t.


Know What You Are Looking For From a Tenant Background Check


Caution: Tenant screening regulations can be hazardous to your rental health! Over-simplification of the tenant screening process is a common but costly mistake. The goal is not to check the boxes on your tenant screening checklist or show proof that you complied with a local ordinance. It’s making sure you don’t rent to a tenant from hell.


Even if a local ordinance directs you to check local court records (ignoring the fact that the tenant may have a history somewhere else) or it impedes your ability to view a tenant’s eviction history, you need to stay on task when screening tenants.


Start by defining the information you need to discover, and remain diligent until you have a clear picture of:


1) The tenant’s credit-worthiness, and
2) Their rental history.


In some cases, you have to be creative.


Regardless of how you discover the information — tenant screening reports just make it easier — keep track of whether you’ve covered all the bases. Does the tenant have sufficient income to pay the rent? Will they care for the property? Has this tenant been disruptive, irresponsible or committed crimes? What about previous evictions — the ultimate gauge of a bad tenant?


Regardless of what neighbors, town leaders or others think a landlord should do, tenant screening is a science — much like a recipe that must be followed to the letter each and every time if you want consistent results.



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