Even if you have a detailed application your prospective tenants have to fill out, there’s going to be a lot you don’t know about them. That’s why you also want to run a tenant credit report. That can help you make a decision, but you still won’t have the whole picture. While credit reports are generally fairly accurate, the application may not be. People lie. It’s a sad fact of life, but you don’t want it to turn into a nightmare for you and your apartment complex.
Rather than just take applicants at their word, you’ll want to do some digging. Those references they put down? Call them. The places they said they work? Call those, as well. Make sure your applicants are giving you information you can verify as being accurate. That’s part of the reason to have a detailed rental application. You get enough information to start the digging process, and to see if the people who have applied to rent an apartment from you are being honest with the information they’re providing. If you find that they’re lying, you may not want to rent to them, even if they have good credit.
Another way to screen prospective tenants is to do a Google search on their names, or to look for them on social media sites. This is much easier to do if they have a less common name, but if you’ve seen them in person you may be able to match up a picture or other identifying information. That’s often a good way to see if they were being honest when they said they didn’t smoke, didn’t have pets, or wouldn’t be having too many people live there. Searching the internet can often also provide information about prior arrests, which can be important when making a decision about an applicant.
It’s a shame in many ways that landlords have to resort to these kinds of searches, and that some prospective tenants can’t be trusted, but it’s much better to be safe rather than sorry. Just make sure you’re being fair to all tenants, in that they all have to fill out the same application, and they all undergo the same screening process. If you don’t handle every applicant the same, and the applicant can prove that, you could be in legal trouble for discriminating against an applicant.
To avoid that, and to be clear about how you make your decision on who to rent your apartments to, make sure each person who applies to rent from you gets information about what will be asked of them and what you will do with that information. The more up-front you are about your methods, the more you can automatically weed out people who know they can’t qualify. Many of these people won’t even apply, which means those who do will have a higher chance of being the kinds of tenants you want to rent to and would like to have in your apartments.
The American Apartment Owners Association provides thorough tenant screening services to members and non-members. To order a report, visit our tenant screening page. Our background checks start with basic credit and can include a credit score, criminal and eviction history, full address history, social security fraud check, bad check writing verification (Telecheck), and more.