Choosing between rental applicants

Once we received one completed rental application, we ended up getting a few. When you get more than one application during the review process, do you select the first applicant or who you think will be the best tenant? This probably sounds like a stupid question, but do we have an obligation to the person who submitted first? We really didn’t think this was going to be an issue, but we received the applications within several hours of each other. The first submitted is certainly not the strongest, but acceptable.

There’s kind of two answers to this question. The “by-the-book” answer is this: have a rating/points system for applicants for your rentals. Rate/score applicants as you receive their applications and accept the first people that meet your application criteria. This eliminates the potential for someone to come back and sue you for housing discrimination if you turn down their application despite the fact they met your application criteria.
I personally don’t always follow this system. If I had several applicants that qualified, but one was clearly a lower risk vs another, I’d always choose the lower risk tenant, because they’re going to be living in MY PROPERTY! If the prospective tenants don’t know how many applicants there are, you can always tell them that somebody else beat them to it.

I take the one who best meets my written criteria.

In my market, I’m lucky to get anyone qualifying, so I take the first one to qualify. However, as far as I am concerned, 2 applications on the same day are received at the same time.

You are not required to take the first qualifying applicant. However, it prevents the accusation that your definition of “best” applicant is colored by race, children, handicap, etc. But if you have written criteria and your accepted applicant meets the criteria and the one rejected did not meet the criteria in some way, you are covered.

Let me repeat, do not take one applicant over another because one was childless and the other had children. That would be illegal. Don’t choose one over the other because of race, or any other reason forbidden by the fair housing act or Americans with Disabilities Act.

This is a state by state answer. In the state of Texas by law when you take an application you have to give the prospect the items that will cause a rejection. That helps you prepare for the applicants. That means that either they get rejected because of one of the reasons on your sheet or you accept the first acceptable applicant.

I write on the application when I get it the date and time received and get back to each applicant as to pass or fail and why.

Thank you for the responses.

Suppose in a hypothetical situation you receive two applications. Both applicants meet your minimum criteria. However, the first applicant barely meets the minimum threshold, and the second easily surpasses that threshold in terms of credit history and income. The first applicant has a large dog, which we do not specifically exclude, and the second has a small dog. In the first case, both individuals require a combined income to qualify whereas the second, each would qualify one their own. Therefore, the second applicant seems much better qualified, but the first would not be rejected based on your criteria (assuming everything else checks out). You also need to be and appear very unbiased in this particular situation.

In this case, would you select the second applicant and tell the first that they were chosen over a better qualified applicant? The first applicant is under the impression that they were the first to apply.

Never ever tell an applicant they were first to apply. Don’t even tell them if there have been other applicants or not.

Unless your state has some funky laws, do not give tenants a reason why they are rejected (unless it’s the credit report). If they ask, simply state that they didn’t meet your rental requirements. Then, it is not a social call, get off the phone.

You must have a legal reason to reject. Write it on the application and file it away. If you start telling applicants why you rejected them, they will just argue with you.

I don’t take roommates unless each qualifies, so your scenario wouldn’t be a problem for me. Too many times, one roommate leaves and I want the guy left behind to be able to pay the rent.

You know what. Take out your written criteria right now and write on it: If more than one applicant qualifies the credit score and income will be used to determine which aplicant will be selected. There. You are covered.

It is discriminatory to reject an applicant based on marital status. But I have found that a newly divorced woman is not the person that you background check. They consistently check out on the background and have real problems paying the rent. I don’t mean a woman that has been divorced for a year or more, I mean a woman that moves out of the marital home into your rent house. This doesn’t happen to men but it does to women almost each and every time.

They act more like a kid moving out of his parent’s home into his first apartment. I am not saying don’t rent to them, I am saying you need to screen a little harder when you ask about the previous landlord and they say they didn’t have one because they just got divorced.

Your criteria is insufficient. It should have excluded the first applicant and passed the second.

Scoring systems rather than check boxes push more qualified applicants to the top and avoid any bias because the criteria are defined before anyone applies. There is no judgment call, which is what you have when determining “better qualified”. That is easily interpreted as not-in-a-protected class especially when the first applicant meets the minimum criteria.