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Home · Property Management · Tenant Screening : Tenant Screening Lessons from the Trenches
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Child with cellDo You Have the Techno-Savvy to Screen Younger Tenants?

Veteran property manager Wallace Gibson of Gibson Management Group, Ltd., in Virginia responded to our article Is Your Lease Application Falling Short? with his own list of great tips, gleaned from forty years in the property management business.  Here’s some of his sage advice:

Tenant Credit Checks

Running a credit check with a FAKE SS# with the information on an application actually CREATES a “credit identity” for that person – so that the NEXT time the information is requested it is actually THERE with ‘no credit’ reported….this should be a danger sign for would-be landlords…

Tenant Screening Checklist

When screening a tenant, I always:

1) take credit/application fees by personal check.  I want to verify the information on the check vs. the information on the application AND I want to check the CHECK NUMBERS to see how “old” they have had the bank account….yes, I know that you can start your checks at any #; however, most people don’t know this and automatically start at 100.

2) get applications on all adult applicants – husband, wife, children over 18, live-in parents….I want as much information on them ALL since they probably do have credit files.

3) if they are moving from a local home, I drive by it…I want to see how high the grass is; if they respect their neighbors and maintain the yard; if they have boat/RV or other vehicle that may be parked on the lawn at my rental home.

4) if they are selling their current home, I check the MLS to see what tidbits their listing Realtor has said about their house….if there is a short sale offered, they may be in financial straights so that if the home is sold or foreclosed, they may declare bankruptcy while in my rental property.

Tenant Lease Application

I changed my application forms several years ago….I NOW ask for DOB, cell phone # and e-mail addresseslocal land lines are now elective for many residents; however, they WILL most likely keep their cell phone # when they move as well as their e-mail.

Some tech savvy landlords with younger rental applicants check their listings on facebook or myspace and read their blogs.   All’s fair in love and resident screening…..

Gibson Management Group, Ltd., is a full-service property management company offering 40 years of professional property management services.  Their management program is tailored to high end single family homes of character, country and estate properties as well as town homes. They offer listings in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia and Albemarle County as well as Greene and Louisa Counties and the Lake Monticello area of Fluvanna County.

Other members want to hear your advice on tenant screening! Please share your insights by leaving your comment below.

Thorough tenant screening is only half the battle. You also need to know how to maintain current and complete tenant files.  Learn how in How-To Tips for Tenant File Maintenance.

Collecting references is only valuable if you check them. See Tips for Checking Personal References.

Need help drafting a Lease Agreement?  See our four-part series How to Draft a Solid Lease Agreement.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services related to your commercial housing investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing.  Find out more at

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  • All of these recommendations are great. I really like the one that many forget to utilize which is to check out people’s myspace and facebook accounts. After making this suggestion to one of our clients, they found out that one of their tenants had pictures of themselves doing drugs and other questionable activities on their myspace accounts. This certainly gave them a new perspective on tenant screening and now do those checks as well as a thorough background check (and not one of those cheesy online ones, but a REAL up to date ones that we provide) and everyone is happier!

  • Good points, here is a few things I’ve learned over the years:

    Proper screening avoids a lot of problems. I tell plenty of people that their application is denied. It saves me a lot of problems later. It sounds harsh but I can’t care about everyone’s problems. If they have to explain their situation to me I most likely will not rent to them. I’m not willing to make other peoples problems my problems by taking them on as a tenant.
    I find it is important to never give in to an applicant. I’m amazed how many times I get a partially filled out application. When I tell the person they need to finish filling it out and resubmit it some people get mad, others never reapply and some even resubmit another incomplete application. My application isn’t that long either it only asks for essential information yet they must think I don’t think I really want it, need it or they don’t want to tell me. Either way it must be filled out right or the answer is no. Weirdly, they have to be trained to follow the rules. Anyone that can’t respect the rules is not someone that you want as a tenant anyway.

    One BIG red flag is if they are not able to pay the security deposit in full. If they need to pay it over time the answer is no. If their finances are that tight then they will have a hard time paying rent on a month that the car breaks down or something else happens. It is amazing how many times somebody will ask to pay the deposit over time and after I say no they say, that’s ok I can figure it out. If you don’t make their problems your problems they can usually figure it out themselves and if they can’t you don’t want to work with them.
    Some may say I’m tough on applicants and tenants. I say I’m only expecting people to act like an adult in the grown up world. I expect people to fill out a complete and accurate application and then I expect them to live up to the lease, just as they would expect me to live up to what I agree to on the lease. At the same time an applicant is a potential customer and needs to be treated with respect and they need to feel like (until you know differently) that their business is important to you.
    Being tough doesn’t make it hard to fill a vacancy either. I can usually get a place filled in a few weeks.

    Jeff Stinson
    Property Manager

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