One way landlords find tenants is by placing an ad for a rental unit in the local newspaper or on Web sites like Craigslist.org and Apartments.com. The ad should include a complete description of the property that details its size, monthly rent, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, and which appliances and utilities are included. If the landlord is considering yearlong rather than month-to-month leases, he should make that clear as well.
By listing all of these details in the ad, neither the landlord nor the potential tenant wastes time discussing or walking through a dwelling that's wrong for the client's needs. It's also recommended that the landlord talk to all potential tenants over the phone before meeting at the rental property. This is another way to double-check that the unit is right for the tenant.
At an appointment to show the apartment, the landlord should come prepared with a rental application. The purpose of the rental application is to have written proof that the tenant has the income and financial stability to pay the rent on time and that he has a solid rental history with no evictions, legal problems with landlords or history of missed payments. Here's some standard information that should be collected on a rental application:
- Personal information: Name, address, phone numbers and an e-mail address for all applicants and co-applicants, including how many children and pets will be living in the unit.
- Credit check authorization: The applicant's written permission to check his credit history. To run the credit check in the United States, the landlord will need the applicant's Social Security number and a copy of his driver's license.
- Income: Recent pay stubs and bank statements to verify the applicant's monthly income and bank account holdings. A good rule of thumb is that the monthly rent should equal no more than one-third of a tenant's monthly income.
- Employment history: A list of recent employers, including how long the applicant stayed at each job.
- Rental history: A list of addresses and landlord contact information for the past two or three years. A prospective landlord will want to know if the applicant has ever been evicted, had his home foreclosed or missed more than three rental payments in a year.
- Code of conduct and rent agreement: The applicant should sign a code of conduct -- what behavior is and isn't acceptable on the property. The agreement should also include the rent amount.
Meeting with tenants and collecting applications is all part of the tenant screening process. It's extremely important that the landlord understand any applicable fair housing laws to avoid any claims of discrimination during the screening process
The basic rule of tenant screening is to establish a clear set of criteria against which all applicants will be judged. For example, each applicant must have a minimum amount of monthly income, a minimum credit score and no prior evictions. It's a good idea to put that set of criteria in writing and have a lawyer take a look at it. All decisions should be based on sound business logic, like using the same standards to evaluate each prospective tenant, not personal impressions. To avoid discrimination, a landlord shouldn't make exceptions for one applicant if he wouldn't make those same exceptions for all of them.
Once the landlord has found the right applicant, it's time to sign the lease.