Most Seattle landlords have a pretty good picture of the ideal tenant. It is someone who pays their rent when they are supposed to, treats the property as if it were their own, and isn’t a disruption to the neighbors. While there is no guarantee that every tenant meets these criteria, screening your prospective tenants helps find those who are the right fit. When you advertise your rental, you can include your requirements and expectations. That way, per fair housing laws, these same screening requirements are applied to all applicants.
Advertising Your Rental
The rental advertisement is a great place to start the screening process. You can include not only basic property information like square footage, number of bathrooms and bedrooms, and if you will accept pets. You can list the deposit and rental fees, and whether you will require background checks and/or a credit report. Fully disclosing all this information will help to eliminate prospective renters who do not meet the requirements of your ideal renter.
Contacting Your Prospective Tenant
After you’ve received applications, you’ll want to contact any potential tenants. You can call them and review the guidelines from your ad on things like pets and smokers. You can also reiterate your expectations for rent and the required security deposit, and go over the terms of the lease. This is also a good opportunity to ask the applicant additional qualifying questions like how many people will live in the apartment, or what is the reason for the move.
Gather More Information
When you make contact with the applicant initially, if the conversation goes well, gather more information. You should get thetenant’s full name, email address, and phone number. Ask them where they live now and how to reach their current landlord. You can also ask for the contact information of their previous landlords. You can request that they complete a formal application and ask for permission to run background and credit checks before approving their rental application.
Review their Rental History
Contact your prospective tenant’s previous landlords. If there were issues with the last few landlords, then there is a good chance you will have issues too. Some of the questions to ask include whether they were ever late on the rent, or how well they maintained the property. Ask them if they know the reason the tenant is moving and whether they were given adequate notice. Additionally, you can find out if they had a history of complaining or how well they got along with the neighbors. The answers to these questions will help you get a better idea of who your prospective tenant is.
Understanding the Fair Housing Laws
A critical piece of being a landlord is knowing the fair housing laws. Even if you don’t intentionally discriminate, you could still find yourself involved in a lawsuit. If you need help deciphering these laws, get help from an attorney. The Fair Housing Laws state that you cannot reject a candidate based on race, religion, sex, or ethnic background. Nor can you reject someone because they are disabled or have children. You can read more about the Fair Housing Act here.
When It Is Okay to Reject a Tenant
It is not okay to reject a tenant for the reasons listed above, however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t screen tenants. There are many acceptable reasons to reject a potential tenant. If they do not earn enough money to cover the rent, have poor credit, or their background check shows unfavorable information, you can reject them. Additionally, if too many people will be living in the home, you can reject them based on occupancy limits.
The application that you give prospective tenants should include important information like their social security number and driver’s license number. Also, make sure the application includes sections for employment history, credit, bank accounts and income. Have a section that asks for information on bankruptcies and evictions. You’ll also want references (in addition to landlords). You must be specific about your criteria and put it in writing so that you are compliant with the fair housing laws. For example, if you require good credit, list on the application that this is a requirement. This goes for other criteria too, such minimum income requirements or non-smokers only.
Verify the Information
Once you get the application back, verify the information that the applicant includes. Confirm that they work where they say they do, and how much they make. With permission, run credit checks with companies like TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. This will give you information on whether they pay their bills on time, had a bankruptcy, or other issues. The police department or court where the applicant currently lives can help you with the background check.
Get to Know Your Applicant
Finally, spend a little time getting to know your applicant. Meet them for a property tour and ask any questions you might have missed in your first conversation. One good question is why they chose your property. Questions like this will give you some insight into their personality and whether they will fit well with other tenants living on the property.
If you're looking for help with tenant screening in Seattle or the surrounding areas, don't hesistate to reach out to T-Square Properties. We would love to assist you.
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