How To Screen Tenants: A Complete Guide

Screening tenants is an important part of being a landlord or property manager. It involves a thorough evaluation of potential tenants to ensure that they are responsible, trustworthy, and financially stable. This process can help you find the right tenants for your property and avoid potential issues down the line.

This comprehensive resource covers tenant screening. We will help you find the ideal tenants by pre-screening, background checking, and contacting references. We will also examine legal issues, and screening criteria, make a decision, and communicate with applicants.


Pre-Screening Tenants

Before diving into a thorough screening process, it’s helpful to have a pre-screening system in place to weed out any unsuitable candidates quickly. This initial step can save you time, money, and potential headaches down the line. In this section, we’ll go over two pre-screening methods that will help you identify whether an applicant is worth considering for a more detailed screening process.

  • Initial phone screening: A quick call to the applicant can reveal key information about their suitability as a tenant. This includes their reason for moving, rental budget, and move-in date.
  • Pre-screening questionnaire: A set of questions sent to the applicant via email or online form can provide more detailed information about their rental history, employment status, and credit score.


By conducting an initial phone screening or pre-screening questionnaire, you can quickly identify any red flags that would make a tenant unsuitable for your property. This step can save you time and money in the long run and ensure you find the right tenant for your rental property.


Legal Considerations

When screening tenants, it’s crucial to be aware of the legal considerations involved. Landlords must comply with federal, state, and local laws to avoid potential legal issues. In this section, we’ll cover some of the key legal considerations that landlords need to be aware of when screening tenants.

  • Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Landlords must be careful not to violate this act when screening tenants.
  • Discrimination laws: In addition to the Fair Housing Act, there may be state or local laws that prohibit discrimination based on other factors such as sexual orientation or gender identity. Landlords must comply with these laws as well.
  • Background check regulations: When conducting background checks on potential tenants, landlords must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other relevant laws. This includes obtaining written consent from the tenant and providing them with a copy of the background check report.


Complying with legal considerations is essential when screening tenants to avoid potential legal issues. By understanding and adhering to the Fair Housing Act, discrimination laws, and background check regulations, landlords can ensure they are conducting a legal and ethical screening process.


Criteria for Screening

When screening tenants, it’s essential to have clear criteria in place to assess their suitability for your rental property. In this section, we’ll discuss the five key criteria that landlords should consider when screening potential tenants.


1. Income Verification

Income verification is a crucial part of tenant screening, as it helps landlords determine whether a potential tenant can afford to pay rent consistently and on time. Verifying a tenant’s income can be done by reviewing their pay stubs or tax returns and comparing them to the rental price. A general rule of thumb is that rent should not exceed 30% of the tenant’s monthly income.

It’s important to note that landlords should also consider other financial obligations that the tenant may have, such as car payments or student loans, when evaluating their ability to pay rent. Additionally, landlords should verify the tenant’s employment status to ensure that they have a stable source of income. By verifying a tenant’s income, landlords can make informed decisions and select tenants who are financially responsible and capable of meeting their rental obligations.


2. Credit History

A tenant’s credit history can provide insight into their financial responsibility and ability to pay rent on time. Landlords should review credit reports to assess the tenant’s creditworthiness. Landlords can obtain a credit report from a credit bureau, which will include information such as the tenant’s credit score, payment history, and outstanding debts. A good credit score and positive payment history can indicate that the tenant is financially responsible and reliable, while a low credit score and history of late payments may be cause for concern.

Landlords should also be aware of any outstanding debts, as this can impact the tenant’s ability to pay rent on time. It’s important to obtain the tenant’s written consent before running a credit check and to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

3. Rental History

A tenant’s rental history is an important factor in the screening process as it can reveal how they’ve treated previous rental properties and whether they’ve had any issues with landlords or neighbors. Landlords should verify the tenant’s rental history by contacting previous landlords and asking about their experience renting to the tenant. This can include questions about the tenant’s payment history, whether they caused any damage to the property, and if they received any complaints from neighbors.

By reviewing an applicant’s rental history, landlords can make informed decisions about whether they’re likely to be reliable tenant and respect the property. It’s important to note that landlords should also verify that the previous landlord is legitimate and not a friend or family member of the applicant pretending to be a landlord.


4. Employment History

Verifying a tenant’s employment history is an important part of the tenant screening process. By verifying employment, landlords can ensure that a tenant has a stable source of income and can afford rent payments. To verify employment, landlords may ask for the tenant’s permission to contact their current and/or previous employer or request pay stubs or other proof of income.

Verifying employment can also help landlords determine a tenant’s job stability, which can be an indicator of how long they’re likely to stay in the rental property. A tenant with a stable job history is less likely to experience a sudden loss of income and struggle to pay rent. However, landlords need to be mindful of fair housing guidelines and not discriminate against tenants based on their occupation or source of income.


5. Criminal Background Check

Performing a criminal background check on prospective tenants can help landlords ensure the safety and security of their property and other tenants. This type of check can reveal any past criminal activity, including convictions, arrests, and charges. It can also provide information on whether the applicant is on any sex offender registry.

While conducting a criminal background check, it’s important to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including fair housing and privacy laws. Additionally, landlords should consider only relevant criminal history when making rental decisions, taking into account the severity of the offense and the amount of time that has passed since it occurred. By using a reputable screening service and following fair housing guidelines, landlords can obtain accurate and legal information about their potential tenants and make informed decisions about who to rent to.

By considering these five criteria when screening tenants, landlords can make an informed decision about the suitability of a potential tenant for their rental property. By verifying income, reviewing credit and rental history, checking employment history, and conducting a criminal background check, landlords can ensure they find a reliable and responsible tenant.


Background Check

Conducting a background check is an important step in screening potential tenants to ensure that they are suitable for your rental property. There are several types of background checks that landlords can conduct, including criminal, credit, eviction, and reference checks. By conducting a thorough background check, landlords can gain valuable insight into an applicant’s history and make informed decisions about whether they would make a good tenant.

When conducting a background check, it’s important to review all relevant information to make an informed decision. This may include checking multiple sources and verifying the accuracy of the information. For example, landlords may need to check criminal records from both state and federal databases to get a complete picture of an applicant’s criminal history. They may also need to verify employment and income by contacting the applicant’s employer directly.

To conduct a background check, landlords must obtain written consent from the tenant and provide them with a copy of the report. They should also follow all applicable laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, to ensure that they are conducting the check legally and ethically. By following these guidelines, landlords can ensure that they are making informed decisions about potential tenants and creating a safe and harmonious living environment for all residents.


Contacting References

To ensure that potential tenants are suitable for their rental property, conducting reference checks is an important step in screening tenants. Contacting references can provide valuable insight into a tenant’s character and reliability, helping landlords make informed decisions about who to rent to.

There are different types of references that landlords can contact, including previous landlords, employers, and personal references. Contacting previous landlords can provide information about a tenant’s rental history, such as whether they paid rent on time and how they treated the rental property. Employers can verify a tenant’s employment status, salary, and job stability, which can provide insight into their ability to pay rent. Personal references, such as friends or family members, can also offer additional insights into a tenant’s character and reliability.

By contacting these different types of references, landlords can gain a more comprehensive understanding of a tenant’s background and suitability for their rental property. It’s important to conduct these reference checks effectively by asking the right questions and verifying the information provided. By doing so, landlords can ensure they make an informed decision about their potential tenants, helping to create a safe and harmonious living environment for all tenants.


Making the Decision

After conducting all the necessary screenings, contacting references, and reviewing relevant information, it’s time to make the final decision on whether to accept or reject a tenant. Landlords should carefully review all the information gathered during the screening process, including credit reports, criminal background checks, and references, to get a complete picture of the tenant’s suitability.

In addition to reviewing the information, landlords should also evaluate the level of risk associated with the potential tenant. This includes considering factors such as the tenant’s credit history, rental history, employment history, and criminal background check. By evaluating these factors, landlords can make an informed decision about the level of risk associated with the potential tenant.

Based on the information gathered and risk evaluation, landlords should make an informed decision on whether to accept or reject the tenant. It’s important to communicate the decision to the tenant and provide feedback if necessary. If a landlord decides to reject a tenant, they must provide a valid reason that is not discriminatory in nature. By conducting a thorough screening process and making an informed decision, landlords can ensure that they find reliable and suitable tenants for their rental property.


Communicating with Applicants

Effective communication with applicants is crucial to ensure a transparent and fair screening process. Landlords should promptly notify applicants of their final decision, whether they have been accepted or denied, and should clearly state the reason for the decision. This can be done via email, phone, or written notice, depending on what was agreed upon with the applicant.

If a tenant is denied based on information obtained in a background check, landlords must provide an adverse action notice. This notice should provide the tenant with information about the screening process, the reason for the decision, and the credit reporting agency used. By providing the necessary information and complying with legal requirements, landlords can maintain ethical practices and establish a positive relationship with applicants.

By communicating the final decision promptly and providing the necessary information, landlords can ensure a transparent and fair screening process. It’s important to provide an adverse action notice if necessary to comply with legal requirements and maintain ethical practices.



Screening tenants is essential for landlords to locate the finest tenants. Landlords can reduce risk by confirming income, credit, rental, employment, and criminal history. References and background checks can also help landlords assess tenants’ character and reliability.

It’s important to remember that screening tenants should be done in compliance with fair housing laws and other relevant regulations. Landlords should also communicate effectively with applicants, providing prompt notification of the final decision and any necessary adverse action notices.

By following best practices for screening tenants, landlords can minimize the risks associated with renting out their properties and ensure a positive and successful tenancy for both themselves and their tenants.

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