How to Screen Tenants in Charleston: A Landlord's Guide

October 10, 2023 | By Charleston Property Company
Happy couple receiving a house key, how to screen tenants concept.

Published February 20, 2020. Updated October 10, 2023. 

The difference between having an exceptional tenant and a terrible tenant that's the talk of landlord discussion boards the world over is your screening process.

A great tenant brings you peace of mind, knowing the rent will be paid and your rental home will be respected. On the other hand, a bad tenant can be a major source of headaches and expenses down the road!

When allowing prospective renters into your investment home, it's essential to be thorough with the vetting process. This is the first line of defense for your Charleston rental property: without the right screening, you could be letting in a risky tenant that will turn your dreams of rental income into a nightmare.

However, when you receive applications, it can be hard to spot an insincere tenant who's simply putting on an act instead of a quality renter that you'll feel comfortable having in your property. Screening tenants is the best way to ensure that you recruit the best possible tenants—and that the worst ones are kept from ever getting past the front door.

So, consider these tips from our experienced Charleston property management company to find and place excellent renters when screening tenants!

Happy couple receiving a house key, how to screen tenants concept.

What Should You Screen For?

How can rental property owners know what to look for when choosing their next tenant? When learning how to screen tenants for your Charleston rental property, consider some of the following criteria.

Verify Their Identity

Make sure the tenant is who they say they are by verifying their identity.

With identity theft a constant issue, it's more important now than ever to make sure the tenant is who they're claiming to be on their application. Verifying their identity will help you to know who they are and a few crucial details about them, such as any debt, court judgments, and bankruptcies during your tenant screening process.

Background checks are pretty standard for landlords—and are one of the most powerful tools in determining tenant eligibility. Performing a background check will weed out those potential tenants that could pose a risk to your property from the start.

If you uncover any discrepancies between the information on the application and the identity of the prospective tenant, there's no need to move forward with the rest of the screening process or consider them for your rental property.

Check the Application

Your rental application should ask for the crucial information you need to know to screen your potential tenant. For instance, you should collect information about their previous landlords, criminal background, income level, former and current employers, and a list of references that can vouch for prospective tenants.

These are all things you should be able to pull from the application to reference when vetting prospects.

Make sure to properly look over the application before doing any background check to make sure no information was omitted. Gaps in their rental history and employment could be potential red flags.

If you're concerned that you might not be able to spot these issues or that your screening process might not be as rigorous as it should be, working with an expert Charleston property manager can help you fix gaps before they result in future fixes—or worse, evictions.

Use the Information for the Tenant Screening Process

Once you have this information, follow through with the follow-up! This is a critical step that too many landlords gloss over—and end up paying for it later.

Use the information collected on the application to:

  • Contact the prospective tenant's previous landlord to see what kind of tenant they were, if they paid their rent on time, what condition they left the rental property in, and if they received their security deposit back.

  • Make sure you're speaking to the correct person: ask the landlord their name and what properties they own, and ask for an official business landline.

  • Contact your applicant's previous employers and verify with current employers that the tenant actually works there.

Additionally, before an applicant becomes a tenant, ask for bank statements or pay stubs to make sure they make enough to cover rent and other expenses. A good rule of thumb is that your tenant should make three times what they need to cover rent when renting alone.

Interview the Prospective Tenant

Interviewing the applicant in person (or via a video meeting) will give you an idea of their personality. However, it's important to use discretion when making a decision about a tenant. Use the in-person interview as a chance to learn more about your tenant and cross-reference the application.

However, beware of any potential bias that can get tossed into the mix! The last thing you want is to end up violating the Fair Housing Act. Discriminatory practices (intentional or accidental) can lead to lawsuits and conflicts with potential tenants before they even move into your investment property.

When in doubt, it's best to work with a professional property manager like our team here at Charleston Property Company, who can steer you in the right direction during the tenant screening process.

Check Their Credit Report

Checking a tenant's credit report will allow you to see their payment history, debts, credit accounts, delinquencies, and other relevant financial information. Ultimately, this will help you determine whether or not your tenant can meet the financial requirements of your Charleston rental property.

If a tenant has too many delinquencies, high credit usage, or late payments, that may be an indication that your property might be too much to take on.

Another factor to consider when working through how to screen tenants is to ensure that your policies and practices are in line with the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you're not sure how to follow these critical privacy regulations, work with a property management company that understands and follows these laws. Doing this protects tenants and your rental property business!

Hands holding a model house, Charleston property management company concept.

Get Tenant Screening Help From Our Charleston Property Management Company

As a landlord, your ultimate goal is to recruit the best tenants for your property who intend to treat your investment with respect. Screening tenants is your first—and best—tool to accomplish this. If you follow the simple guidelines we've outlined today, you're already on your way to finding your ideal tenant.

However, if it seems a little overwhelming to keep up with the screening demands imposed on landlords by the FHA, FCRA, and ADA, you can always reach out to our experienced rental property experts. Charleston Property Company has processes in place, and plenty of experience helping property owners choose quality residents for their properties.

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