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

February 20, 2020 | By Charleston Property Company

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 it comes to allowing prospective renters into your investment home, it’s important 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.

When you receive applications, it can be hard to spot an insincere tenant who’s simply putting on an act, as opposed to 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. Consider these tips from a Charleston property management company when screening your tenants!

Happy man being given a house key

What Should You Screen For?

To properly 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 on the rise, 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.

Check the Application

Your rental application should ask for the crucial information that you need to know to screen your potential tenant. For instance, their previous landlords, criminal background, income level, former and current employers, and a list of references that can vouch for them. 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 management company can help you fix gaps before they result in future fixes—or worse, evictions.

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.

  • Contact your 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.
  • It’s important to make sure you’re speaking to the correct person: ask the landlord their name, 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.
  • 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 be making three times what they need to cover rent when renting alone.

Interview the Prospect

Interviewing the applicant in person 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 crossing the Fair Housing Act (FHA). When in doubt, it's best to work with a professional Charleston property management 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 during the tenant screening process is to ensure that your policies and practices are in line with the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). 

Conceptual picture of woman hands holding white house over green grass field top view and copy space in Property investment Real estate Saving and buying a home mortgage and loan bank

Remember: You Can Always Ask for Help!

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

However, if it seems a little overwhelming keeping up with the screening demands imposed on landlords by the FHA, FCRA, and ADA, you can always reach out to a trusted Charleston property management company for aid. When you succeed, we succeed! 

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