Tenant Screening Do’s and Don’ts

DO: Take your time screening tenants. This important choice should not be made hastily, just to have your home occupied. By rushing into a lease with the wrong tenant, you may lose more money in the long run.

DO: Determine a sufficient amount of rent-to-income ratio for screening income qualifications. A good rule of thumb is the tenant must make three times the amount of money s/he will be paying for rent each month.

DO: Obey Fair Housing Laws. Base your decision on credit history, debt/income ratios, and past rental histories. Do not discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status or sexual orientation. Apply the same screening rules to every potential tenant.

DO: Discuss all requirements with prospective tenants that call. This saves you time in the long run by avoiding fruitless in-person meetings.

DON’T: Ask unlawful questions, such as a person’s age or marital status. Rejected tenants may become angry, and later cite discrimination as the basis of your rejection.

If the tenant asks about the area, you cannot state “It is safe” or other similar responses. You can, however, recommend they contact the police for crime averages. You may also suggest they drive around the area, at different times of the day and night, to judge for themselves.

DO: Make sure you reconfirm the appointment time with the prospective tenant, on the day of the scheduled meeting at the rental property. Many landlords waste a great deal of time traveling to rental properties to meet with clients that never show up.

DO: Collect an application fee from the prospective tenant. This fee covers the cost of pulling a credit report and reference checks. (In MD, any amount over $25.00 for the application fee has to be verified if any issues arise, keep receipts for this purpose.)

DO: Ask each prospective tenant to complete a rental application, which should include:

  • Name of all occupants
  • Social security number (for each person over 18 who will be living at the residence)
  • Copy of driver’s license or Maryland state ID for each occupant over 18
  • Current address
  • Employment (company name, address and contact number to verify information (if less than one year, require previous employer information)
  • Rental history (Auburn Rose verifies a minimum of five years’ rental history)
  • Current lease situation (Do they have a lease now? Have they given notice to the current landlord?)
  • Date they can move in
  • Current landlord name and phone number (check Real Property Data Search to see who owns the property)
  • Copy of two months’ worth of pay stubs and/or W2s from prior year
  • Documentation for other sources of income (commission, government assistance, child support, disability, etc.)
  • Proof of bank account
  • Recent gas/electric bill
  • Working phone number
  • Emergency contact information
  • Vehicle information (make/model, license plate number and references registration number)
  • Credit-check authorization
  • Arrest and conviction history questions
  • Eviction history questions (also ask “Have you ever intentionally refused to pay rent when due? If so, why?)
  • Personal references contact information (nearest relative, professional and non-relative references)

DO: Beware of prospective tenants who flash money and want to rent immediately. Always take time to verify the information on their application.

DON’T: Fall for a sob story, everyone has one. Stick to your plan and screen, screen, screen. It may take longer to get a tenant, but you’ll be less likely to have issues with qualified renters.

DO: Check state criminal history. For Maryland, use: MD Judiciary Case Search.

DO: Always check references.

DO: Verify income and employment. Some employers require written authorization from the employee before they can release the information. If this process takes too much time, ask for pay stubs. Get copies of tax returns if an individual is self-employed.

DO: Verify rental history. Your rental application should include written authorization (requiring signature) to legally perform background checks to verify credit history, employment, and rental history.

Call the previous landlord. However, do not base your decision to rent on this call. Many times, the landlord listed is a friend of the tenant and not a landlord at all. To uncover the truth, try asking the landlord something that contradicts what is on the application (e.g., rent is $800 when prospective tenant listed it as $900). Doing so may “trip up” a person fraudulently listed as the previous landlord.

DO: Collect the full deposit, and the first month’s rent before move-in. If the tenant moves any belongings into the property, s/he has taken possession. If rejected, s/he might have to be evicted — contact Auburn Rose Property Services for help.

DON’T: Give keys to potential tenants (or any other persons, such as contractors) without a signed key pickup confirmation form that states the person’s name, date s/he received the keys, and the purpose for getting the keys. If you don’t have a form, get something written – even an email. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.