This post is part of the Landlord Life series. My rental is a single-family home in North Central Florida. I’ll share the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learned in each post. I personally have learned a great deal from fellow landlords and I hope to pay it forward by sharing my stories and advice.
My tenant screening process has changed over the years. In the beginning, I simply met with prospective tenants, had them fill out the rental application and then just kind of winged it.
Not a good idea.
Finding the best tenant for your rental is actually easier when you have a system set up to catch unqualified prospects. I learned this the hard way.
This is the process I’ve used for the last few years and it’s been very effective for me.
My Tenant Screening Process
Step 1. Place a for rent ad on Zillow.
Update: Zillow now charges for listings and is no longer free.
I used to use Craigslist and had good luck with it but I recently started using Zillow and love it. It’s free and I received a lot of interest the last time I used it. I don’t place ads on Facebook only because I use it for blogging and personal so I prefer to keep that separate.
I use my ad to start pre-screening by listing my requirements such as no smokers or vapers. I used to say ‘no smoking’ but changed it to ‘non-smokers’. I don’t want to rent to a smoker who says they’ll smoke outside. It smells and I don’t want to deal with cigarette butts on the property.
Step 2. Send each applicant my pre-screening form.
I send my pre-screening questions to people who respond to the ad. A lot don’t bother answering them which is great because part of its purpose is to weed out undesirable candidates. I use Google Forms for this because it’s free and I can view the answers on a spreadsheet.
These are the questions I ask in my pre-screening;
– What is the total number of occupants and how many are 18 and over?
– What is the combined monthly income of all the occupants that will be living in the home?
– How many years have you lived at your current residence and why are you moving?
– Do you smoke or vape?
– Do you have any animals? If yes what are they including breed and their weight.
– Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
– Have you ever been convicted for selling, possessing, distributing or manufacturing illegal drugs or convicted of any other crime? If yes, explain.
– Have you ever been evicted for nonpayment of rent or any other reason?
Related: Nightmare tenants
If they smoke or vape, that disqualifies them. I ask about animals, not pets because some people have animals they don’t consider pets. Bankruptcy is not an automatic disqualification but if they answer yes to other things it gives a better picture. If they have been evicted, that disqualifies them.
Step 3. Invite to a group appointment
I look over the pres-screeing answers and invite qualified candidates to a group appointment. Kind of an open house but not open to the public. These are scheduled on the weekend with a 2-3 hour window. I prefer a group appointment so as to not waste my time with people who don’t show up.
Step 4. Application + background check
Those who attend the open house and are interested, are invited to fill out a rental application and submit to a background check and credit report. I use the Tellus app for this step. I email prospects my personal link and they fill everything out online. It’s free, which is great and they offer other features that I’m sure I’ll use over time.
Step 5. Choose applicant
When the reports come back, it’s just a matter of choosing the first applicant that passes the background check and makes at least 3x the rent. With my current tenant, this process took about two weeks from start to finish.
If you’re considering turning your rental into an Airbnb, read this comprehensive post from our friends at Money Wise Steward, How to be an Airbnb host.
About this first question “– What is the total number of occupants and how many are 18 and over?”
Have you ever had an issue with discrimination due to family status being a protected class under fair housing laws?
Joanne Greco says
I ask that because I need to know how many adults will be on the lease. I require anyone over 18, whether or not they are paying part of the rent, to be on the lease.
Accidental Rental says
Thanks for sharing your process. I love the tip about holding a private open house. I’ve heard a lot about the Tellus app but haven’t tried it myself yet. You have to run a separate eviction search if you use Tellus for screening because the service they use doesn’t include one.
Joanne Greco says
Yes, the private open house has worked out great for me!