Top Tips For Your Tenant Screening Checklist

tenant screening checklistAs a landlord or property manager, your rental property is your investment and a source of income — so you should protect it through comprehensive tenant screening. A great method to follow? Creating a tenant screening checklist.

When searching for potential tenants, you need to prioritize those who will pay rent on time and treat your property with respect. So, how do you find these applicants? 

We’ve outlined below exactly what considerations you should keep in mind when selecting a tenant and provided an example tenant screening checklist to ensure you’re doing your due diligence to protect your property, time and return on investment. Keep reading to discover our top tips:

What is a tenant screening checklist and how can it help you?

The first step to finding a prospective tenant that fits your criteria is to determine exactly what you want in an ideal tenant. A tenant screening checklist helps you stick to that criteria by outlining exactly what steps you need to take in your tenant screening process.

These steps may include a tenant credit check, eviction report, tenant background check, criminal record history, income verification and/or other tenant screening services. The main goal is to compile enough information about your potential tenant to paint a fuller picture of their character and trustworthiness. Understanding your applicants’ backgrounds and rental history will help you sort through the pile and identify the right fit for your rental property. 

Having a set tenant screening checklist also helps formalize the process so that each renter has an equal opportunity to rent your property. If your state has specific rent laws and requirements, you can also use your checklist to ensure that you follow proper protocol and prevent discriminatory screening practices.

Tenant screening can be a daunting task — but it doesn’t have to be. With a tenant screening checklist, landlords can standardize their process to keep track of every step. Create a tenant screening checklist to guarantee you don’t miss a single step in your rental process and give yourself the confidence to identify the right tenant for your property.

What should be in a tenant screening checklist?

Although each landlord may have their own unique goals when searching for renters, there are some standard expectations that all should follow and incorporate into their tenant screening checklist.

To help you stay organized and on top of the rental process, below are some examples of what should be on your tenant screening checklist:

Detail your tenant screening criteria

As previously mentioned, your state may have specific legal requirements that all landlords must follow. All screening criteria should be equally fair to applicants, so this is a great place to incorporate those juridical regulations into your rental practices. Fair Housing laws dictate that you can’t reject a tenant due to discriminatory screening practices. Instead, justifiable reasons can include the tenant’s income, rental history, rental application information and/or possibly their criminal record. 

Here are other details to add to your screening criteria:

  • Rent to income ratio: You need a tenant that can afford your rent. Explore our rent to income ratio guide for landlords here.
  • Rental history: Ensure your tenants don’t have any red flags (e.g., missed payments) when it comes to their past rental history.
  • Proof of employment: Verify whether the applicants have a steady income based on their current employment. If not, you’ll want to check if they have a co-signer that can vouch for the tenant.
  • Rental requirements: If your unit, apartment or home is non-smoking or doesn’t allow pets, you’ll want to make that clear to all renters that apply.

Outline rental requirements in your rental listing

Your rental listing acts as a pre-screening opportunity for tenants. A comprehensive rental listing can help set up the right expectations and requirements for potential applicants interested in your property.

You should include exactly what tenant screening requirements will be enforced for all applicants (e.g., credit check, background check, criminal history or application fee). This can weed out any tenants that won’t be willing to go through this process for a rental as they’ll probably avoid reaching out right from the start.

Meanwhile, tenants that are willing to share that information and authorize these reports can land on your desk instead.

Schedule a phone call

This step may not be part of your routine if you have many units to rent out, but it carries a lot of weight when determining a tenant’s character. Some questions to ask include:

  • What is your current living situation?
  • What is your ideal move-in date?
  • Why are you moving from your current residence?
  • Why are you interested in renting this property?
  • Do you have landlord and employer references that I can contact?
  • Will you submit a rental application?
  • Do you authorize me to access your tenant screening reports (e.g., credit check, background check, etc.)?
  • Do you have roommates? Will you have roommates?
  • Do you have pets? Do you smoke?

If a tenant contacts you via email, it’s still best practice to schedule a phone call for this conversation.

Require a rental application form

Rental application

The rental application is a critical form to provide to prospective tenants that want to apply to your rental property. Not only will it assist you in making a decision, but if the tenant you select defaults the rental application can be very helpful in the debt collection process. Your rental 

application form should require the following tenant information, including:

  • Tenant name, address, date of birth and social security number
  • Tenant contact information
  • Additional occupants
  • General release to pull necessary screening reports (credit report, tenant credit check, etc.) 
  • Employment history (dates of employment, position, contact information)
  • Additional sources of income
  • Rental history (at least five years of residence history and landlord contact information)
  • Informed consent to contact past landlords
  • Proof of income/salary
  • Pets (type, name, size)
  • Vehicles (type, color, state registered, license number)
  • References
  • Emergency contact

For a customizable rental application form, explore AAOA’s Application to Rent here.

Contact relevant tenant references

If your tenant has provided informed consent and landlord contact information, this is your chance to get firsthand feedback about your applicants. Some example questions to ask include:

  • Was the tenant reliable and did they pay rent consistently and on time?
  • Was the rental property condition maintained during the tenancy?
  • Were there any complaints from neighbors or roommates?
  • Would you recommend this person as a tenant?

If you need more background and character information about the tenant, you can also contact their employer to verify that all provided details are accurate and correct.

Run a tenant credit check, background check and other reports

A tenant credit check can reveal important information about your prospective tenant that can make or break their application. It shows their credit score and recent credit history, which includes any instance of non-payment or delinquencies.

This report also allows landlords to take a full look into the tenant’s financial status since it includes their income and/or debts. Typically, landlords look for renters where the monthly rent is no more than one-third of the applicant’s income per month — a tenant credit check can help determine that.

It can also share important details, such as the tenant’s criminal history, which may influence whether they’re a good fit or not. 

Important reminder: Certain cities and states have rent laws regarding what can be included in a tenant background check. Some do not allow landlords to run criminal background checks as part of the rental screening process.

Make a final decision

With all of the relevant tenant information available at your disposal, this is the final step in the tenant screening checklist: Accept or deny the tenant(s).

Streamline the rental process with AAOA today

At AAOA, our members have access to a wide variety of landlord forms and resources, including tenant screening, tenant background checks and rental forms — all to help you manage your business better. 

We also have webinars helpful for landlords, such as:

Join AAOA today!