If you’re shopping for an apartment or rental home, you can expect your potential landlords to conduct a tenant screening before deciding to rent to you. Landlords and property managers want to be sure that the people they rent to will pay their rent on time and will be good tenants who are respectful of the property and their neighbors.
Reasons for Tenant Screening
Property owners know that vacancy means lost money. While it’s important to fill any vacancies quickly, they will also want to be sure that tenants have a history of consistent payment, and to rent to those who have the highest likelihood of being reliable, long-term tenants. Clearly this benefits the landlord, but it might not be so obvious that it benefits tenants, too.
A landlord who consistently has problem tenants will lose money. To compensate, it becomes necessary to raise rents. If a potential landlord conducts a thorough tenant background check as part of the rental application process, you can be confident that there will be lower tenant turnover, which translates to lower cost to the landlord and ideally lower rent for you.
It also means that your neighbors are more likely to be good neighbors to you. A thorough background check will weed out most tenants who don’t maintain the property well, who host frequent loud parties, or who are just generally disrespectful of their neighbors.
What Will the Landlord Look For?
During a rental background check, your future landlord is going to be looking for red flags that could indicate less-than-desirable tenants. They’ll of course perform a tenant credit check to verify that you have a history of paying bills on time. They will consider your credit score, but in general it’s the overall credit report that matters, not just the number. Most will look for indications of a pattern of poorly managed finances, such as bankruptcies and judgements.
In addition to a rental credit check, landlords want to see your rental history. They will want to see if you’ve ever been evicted or show a history of late payments. Once again, they’re looking for patterns. If you had a late payment or two several years ago, that’s much less of a problem than paying late eight out of the last twelve months.
A criminal background check is also likely. If there is anything in your past that will show up here, it’s generally best to mention it up-front and to give your side of the story. It is less likely to be a deal-breaker if you are honest from the start, particularly if it happened some time ago.
Probably the most important thing a landlord wants to know about is your income. Clearly it is a bad idea to rent to someone who doesn’t earn enough to pay the rent. As a rule-of-thumb, most landlords want to see an income of at least three times the rent. They’ll also want to see a solid employment history and will probably verify your current employment.
Tenant screening is an important part of the rental process. It’s not something you should fear, but it is something you should be prepared for. Don’t try to hide negatives, but do work to correct them if you can. Just as importantly, be prepared to explain any negatives – it won’t guarantee you get the apartment that you want, but it will certainly improve your chances.
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