For my renters out there...

Morning all,

So I plan to have a strict tenant screening process once I begin looking for tenants. I’d like to know what, if any questions or process other renters use in their screening process to ensure quality tenants?

For instance, I believe it is important to ensure the renter can pay the rent. Therefore, they should earn about 3.5 times what the rent is. But does anybody ask to see pay stubs or even W-2s? Does this turn off quality renters?

Also, how about credit and criminal background checks?

Basically, what do you look for that tells you the most whether or not to rent to a tenant?

I’d like to know what, if any questions or process other renters use in their screening process to ensure quality tenants?

  • I have the tenant do a full application, give me a copy of their drivers license and most recent paycheck stub (x2 if there are 2 adults in the house), I check their references, employment info and past rental history via telephone, and additionally run their background check (criminal, credit & rental history) via

But does anybody ask to see pay stubs or even W-2s? Does this turn off quality renters?

  • It’s a standard practice, so definitely ask them. One note - if they get paid in cash … don’t even bother talking to them unless they report their income. And verify their income with at least two years worth of tax returns. I honestly prefer not to even rent to those guys - it avoids a lot of hassles.

Also, how about credit and criminal background checks?

  • See above

Basically, what do you look for that tells you the most whether or not to rent to a tenant?

  • Lots of tenants have imperfect credit, so do not make that a big factor. 60% of qualifying with me is that you have a good NON-CASH income job, that can be verified. 40% of qualifying is that you have no or limited criminal history (NO child molesters, rapists, murderers, drug dealers, drug users except maybe possession of maijuana, etc) and a good rental history. For someone with a bad rental history I may, in only a few circumstances, still let them rent from me if it’s a lower income property (I have both lower and middle income properties) and they put down 2-3 months rent as a deposit.

I use a standard rental application like you could find online. It will get me all of their required information. I run criminal background checks thru my county sheriff’s dept. That costs $10 per check, so I charge that to the applicant and $5 extra (gotta get a little gas money). If they’re not getting the gov’t to pay their rent (HUD/sect 8), I verify their income. I accept either a recent pay stub or a verbal verification by their manager. I think 3.5x rent is good. Once you get down to really cheap rents, you need to consider having a lower limit for income. For example: If you’re renting a small place for $450/mo, 3x that is only $1350. That doesn’t leave a lot of money left over for life’s normal expenses so maybe saying $2k/mo is your lower limit instead.
I don’t check credit because I expect renters to have bad credit. They need to have an ability to pay and not have stuff on their background check that would cause problems. Traffic tickets I can handle. Domestic violence, larceny, etc…not so much.

I am a lot like motivatedceo as far as my screening. I also go over to their house to sign the lease because what I see there is what my house is going to look like in 6 months. If it is a mess, I ask fro more security deposit typically it goes from 1 month to 2 months plus first month to get in.

Here’s the text of an email just sent to my BIL this morning:

  1. I look for 3x income. Your place rents for $550/mo. I’m looking for $1650/month income. Don’t worry about excluding applicants. $1650/month is $10/hr with one job and one person earning money. Pretty much anybody that wants to work can earn this. You don’t want someone who is used to getting things free to live there, they’ll think you owe them something too. SSI, disability, pension income, child support, alimony, and nearly any other source of income can count at long as you can verify it. Your applicant only earns $1100/month and is self employed. Those are two red flags. Find a way to verify the income and it’s OK to rent to them. Paycheck stubs, tax returns, invoices to customers, and calling the employer are all ways to verify income. When you call the employer verify the number with their website to make sure the tenant isn’t giving you a false number with a person to pretend to be an employer. Ask leading questions you know the answer to.

  2. Past landlords. I use this as the most important litmus test of vetting tenants. Past performance is the biggest indicator of future actions. Call the landlord and talk to them. Your tenant was in one place for a while. Watch out for people just moving from home or getting evicted from a house they owned. It’s hard to check them out. I’ve had good luck with people that are losing their house. I would not rent to someone with a history of evictions that used the court system to kick them out. Those are the worst kind, the ones that know the laws and use them to their advantage by getting in a place and making payments only long enough to get moved in and then making excuse after excuse after that until the landlord finally files and gets them kicked out after they lived there 4-6 months and only paid a security deposit and first months rent. Don’t let anyone move in without a security deposit.

Call the landlord and talk to them. Ask leading information like the address or a specific about the house that a friend of the applicant wouldn’t know. Try to verify phone numbers with google and any other information you can glean about the landlord to make sure you’re really talking to the landlord instead of someone else. The best way is to ask leading questions you already know the answer to. How much was the rent? They live there about six months, right? (you know they lived there since '09. a friend won’t know the answer and will just agree with your question)

For evictions I use google to look them up. I look them up on facebook and myspace and see if they are talking about getting evicted (yes people do this). You can look for evictions here: You’re being alert for being sued for rent and possesion. that’s the slang for eviction. Some counties have free court search services. I would pay the dollar to search for both applicants in this case. It would also tell you if they are lying about how long they were in a place, as court records will have an address.

  1. those two things are the biggest. Your two applicants together have enough income to qualify for my guidelines. Your guidelines may be different, but you need to have guidelines so that they can’t say you discriminated against them. Written guidelines are good to protect against this. If you don’t know the rules against discrimination you need to look them up. Lots of landlords screw this up.