What's in tenant screening?

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By 

Lighthouse

Updated

June 23, 2022

What's in tenant screening?

What's in tenant screening?

It's vital for landlords to screen their tenants before giving them apartment approval.

They know that some people lie, while others try to hide information. With a tenant screening process, landlords ensure that they're picking a responsible tenant. 

So, what exactly does this process entail? What should applicants watch out for? 

In this article, we're going to give you the inside scoop of it all. That way, you're not caught by surprise if something pops up on one of their checks. 

These are the chapters we're hitting: 

  • What is a tenant screening? 
  • 8 steps landlords take to screen tenants
  • Pre-screening prospective tenants
  • Screen their rental application
  • Run a credit check
  • Run a background check 
  • Contact the tenant's employers
  • Contact past landlords and verify rental history
  • Meet and interview the tenant
  • Use tenant screening reporting services 

Let's get into it! 😊

What is a tenant screening? 

'Tenant screening' is that super exciting screening process that tenants undergo when renting.

A landlord evaluates prospects using their own tenant screening checklist or third-party services. They'll screen your rental application and run checks to sit if you're a good fit for their unit. 

8 steps landlords take to screen tenants 

During a tenant screening process, landlords will go through a checklist to ensure they don't miss anything. Here are the 8 steps they take when assessing a tenant.

Pre-screen prospective tenants

A lot of landlords will choose to pre-screen their tenants over the phone. Of course, not all landlords will do this. But, it eliminates the guesswork of whether the unit is a good fit for you (and for them). 

They'll cover standard topics like what's your budget or when you'd like to move in. 

As a prospective tenant, this is also a great opportunity to ask them any questions you have. 

Even though rental listings give you basic info, they always miss a few things. Ask about the amenities, parking, or additional costs. 

A few questions here and there will help you realize if it's even worth it to proceed with the application. And let's be honest, no one has the time to spend looking at apartments that aren't going to fit our style. 😆   

Screen their rental application

Landlords start off their screening process with a rental application. Most come with a fee- ranging from $35 to $50. Every application is going to ask basic exploratory questions. 

On your end, you'll have to include: 

  • Personal information: Name, social security number, government identification, contact info. 
  • Residence history: Current and past residences (and addresses), move dates, the reason for moving out, and your landlord's contact info.
  • Employment information: Your employer's contact information and details about your place of work (name and address). 
  • Monthly income: Details about your salary. 
  • Pets & Vehicles: Are you planning to move with any pets? Do you need a parking space?
  • Other information: There will also be questions about prior bankruptcy, eviction, or felonies. 

Run a credit check 

Pretty much all landlords are going to run credit checks to assess your credit score. 

NOW, it's important to note that this is dependent on your state's tenant laws. A landlord can only pull a tenant's credit score if they're legally allowed to do so. 

To run credit checks, the landlord will need: 

  • Your full name 
  • Address
  • Social security number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)

Your rental application is the document that allows landlords to run credit reports. 

Once delivered, the landlord has free game to run these checks. Some popular credit bureaus used by landlords are: 

Also, don't forget. Many landlords will charge you a fee to run a credit check. Yes, it is another expense to add to your list of renting costs (...yay). But on the bright side, they're typically reasonably priced- around $30 to $50. 

On an even better note, if you're applying to multiple rentals, you can run your own credit check. Many landlords will accept a copy of your credit report (and you'll get to save money). 

Run a background check

Similar to credit checks, most landlords will run background checks on prospective tenants. They'll hire investigative companies to perform these checks. 

The whole point is that landlords are looking for any potential "red flags" in your background. These can include: 

  • Criminal records: Charged for a felony 
  • Public records: Public disputes, tax liens, child support, spousal support
  • Evictions: Evicted from a prior rental
  • Rental-related collections: Defaulted on rent, missed rent payment
  • Tradelines: Car loans, mortgages, or credit cards
  • Other debt collections: Other loans, school debt, collection services

Contact the tenant's employers

Landlords aren't new to the fact that people lie on their applications. That's why they verify the employer's contact information. 

They'll contact your boss to see if you're a current employee. But don't worry! Employers' can't reveal private information or any work drama you were involved in. 😅

Now, this isn't the only way you can prove you're employed. You can also give them a copy of your pay stub (from the past 1-3 months). 

If landlords can't verify your work via the first two options, they might resort to some stalking. 😝 Some landlords go as far as to check LinkedIn to verify your place of work and employer. 

Keep in mind this isn't very common and many landlords won't go through the trouble of doing this. 

Contact past landlords and verify rental history

There's no better way to find out how you act as a tenant than by speaking to your past landlord. Be prepared for your rental history to get pulled and your previous landlord to get a phone call. 

When looking at prospective tenants, landlords want to see if you have the following: 

  • Evictions 
  • Bounced checks
  • Violations of the lease agreement 
  • Late or unpaid rent payments
  • Rental disputes
  • Noise or behavioral complaints

Some of these points aren't discoverable through a simple rental history check (like noise complaints). 

Yet, if the landlord goes on some sleuthing journey and contacts your past landlords, well- you might get outed. We just recommend being honest from the get-go if you're really set on a specific apartment.

Meet and interview the tenant 

Alright, this one is all on you. You gotta let that personality and charm shine! 😜 

Landlords are going to want to interview you. This might happen either over the phone or in person (during a viewing). Regardless of the landscape, you gotta make them want to rent to you! 

Additionally, the landlord is going to ask you some questions. They may revolve around: 

  • Lifestyle: Are you a smoker? Do you plan on hosting parties? 
  • Pets: Do you have pets? Do you plan on getting pets? Are your pets housebroken? 
  • Friends and family: Do people come over to your home often? Do family or friends often spend the night?

As much as these questions are just a joy to answer, you DO NOT have to answer any discriminatory questions. Any line of questioning that involves race, disability, family status, sex, religion, or sexuality is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. 

Use tenant screening reporting services 

These services are newer to the market, but they are incredibly useful to landlords. Companies like TurboTenant and RentPrep actually conduct tenant screening reports. 

Their screening regimens are very thorough and check just anything and everything. 

The list goes: 

  • Score factors
  • Criminal records
  • Eviction records
  • Trade lines 
  • Collections 
  • Public records
  • Accounts, balances, and past dues
  • Review of the total collections, eviction, and public records

These services pull all this very detailed information through online agencies and organizations. As such, you don't want to lie or manipulate details on your rental applications. 

Conclusion

That concludes our article on how landlords screen for tenants! We hope you learned a thing or two. 

For more snazzy content on the rental market (we're on a mission to make renting fun), head over to our social media. We're on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! 

And, if you're currently on the hunt for an apartment, get some cash back on a new lease. At Lighthouse, we want you to save money (we know just how unaffordable apartments have become). We offer a cash back service and help you find your perfect place to call home. 😊

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