tenant screening

When renting a property to new tenants, a background check is one of the few tools landlords have at their disposal to decide who might be a potential fit…….and who might be a potential headache. The guidelines of a tenant screening vary from state to state, so before running one, make sure you’re compliant with all your state’s laws (or run yours with guidance from a service like PeopleG2 that knows them inside & out). Once yours is set, however, don’t just flip through the results casually. The devil’s in the details here, as are all the red flags that may or not look that red at first glance.

Some of the red flags we’re about to outline may turn out to be nothing to sweat about. But some could lead to the kinds of revelations that save you stress and money if you happen to catch them in time. When running your next tenant screening report, keep your eyes glued to the details – your attention costs nothing, unlike the potential alternative.

Source of Income Can’t Be Verified Via Tenant Screening Report

A tenant can pass a credit check with flying colors, and even present a stellar bank statement if required, but that doesn’t mean they’re making that money from a reputable source. If a candidate can’t verify the source of the specific income they’re presenting, you might be opening yourself up to a host of potential problems down the line.

Where this is most relevant to you as a landlord is the potential location of this undisclosed work – your property. You could potentially be liable for any under-the-table business that’s run on your property; whether it’s as innocuous as an Etsy shop, or something far less legal.

No Contact Info For Previous Landlords

Not every potential tenant is going to have their most recent landlord on speed dial, but if they don’t have any contact information on file for their previous residences, aside from addresses, that should obviously warrant further questioning. In lieu of a landlord, your prospective tenant should at least have a contact at the rental company to verify that, yes they did indeed live there.

Beyond this, however, they should have a previous building manager’s information on file, or an on-site supervisor from their most recent residences that can confirm they not only lived there, but lived there respectfully. If there were conflicts – trash left in the hall, loud parties, or anything similar where they lived last – chances are your candidate will leave off the contact information of anyone who might verify this. Look for phone numbers or emails under each residence listed, and investigate for yourself.

Gaps In Residence History

To take the last red flag and expand it more dramatically – are all the years on a prospective tenant’s residence history accounted for? There are many explanations for gaps in residence history, but make sure you’re actually getting those explanations – along with verifying them to the best of your ability. There’s no easier way to hide a contentious living situation than for an applicant to simply not list it, and expect you not to notice.

Breaking Leases

Take a good look at the timespan on all the previous residences listed on an application. Are any of them under a year? Investigate the results for yourself with the landlord listed (who, again, should hopefully have contact information attached).

Like gaps in residence history, there can be many valid reasons a candidate might break a lease, but if they’re hiding that fact, chances are they might not have one. An applicant that breaks their previous lease flippantly could easily do the same on yours, leaving you in a very tight spot. As a side note – adding a reason for leaving previous residences on any application can save you work, and help you target discrepancies between your applicant’s account and a landlord’s very quickly.

No Recent or Relevant References

If an applicant can’t list a previous landlord, manager or verified roommate as a reference, that’s probably not the best sign for their compatibility. Listing a friend or even a coworker doesn’t tell you much about how that prospective tenant acts when they’re at home, and how easy they are to live with.

Multiple Names Are Returned on a Tenant Screening Report

Sometimes more than one name is returned from a social security number trace. If that’s the case, it’s best to analyze that residence history all over again. It might also mean broadening your criminal history search to include those additional names. If an applicant is hiding a name change, they probably have a good reason for doing so – and it’s one you need to figure out before deciding if you can rent to them in good faith.

Tenant Screening Conclusion

So there you have it – six subtle but surefire signs that you need to do a deeper dive into an applicant’s history. Again, none of these are cause for immediate denial. If you have questions, allow your prospective tenant to answer them before taking drastic action. They have the right to dispute your findings (or else you could be in a very different kind of trouble), but ignoring the red flags here altogether also isn’t in your best interest. Every application deserves to be investigated with a healthy amount of caution – not just for you, but for that candidate’s prospective neighbors that you already rent to.

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