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HMW #137: How to Screen For The Perfect Tenant

alan corey full time investor how to start landlord long-term rentals property management real estate 101 tenants Jan 16, 2024

Read Time: 5 minutes

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Picture it. You find the cash-flowing rental of your dreams. It's available for rent and getting a lot of traffic from potential tenants checking it out. But now comes the most important part: selecting the right tenant for your space.

I (Alan) will walk you through the process of screening tenants so that you aren't stressing about making a decision on which tenant will pay rent on time and take the best care of your home, because by following these 5 steps the decision will already be made for you.

That should make it easy, right? (That's a nod to Lauren @AdultingIsEasy.)



Hey now! I'm here to change that thinking! Do the following steps and it's easy-peasy lemon squeezy. 


Step 1: Create clear rental guidelines and stick to them

Create your own rental policies and application criteria, and stick to them.

Let's say you have a no pet policy and the "perfect" tenant comes along but has a pet. Avoid the tempation of bending your rules. Once you kick off a relationship with the expectation that some rules can be bent, it's opening the door for other rules to be bent as well.

Same goes for income amount, credit score minimum, landlord references, or other criteria you lay out for yourself BEFORE you list your property for rent and before anyone applies to rent your property.

You must adhere to fair-housing laws, meaning you can't discriminate applications based on disability, race, sex, color, national origin, religion, or familial status. So you can't mention these characteristics or ask about these things when renting a property.

But you can mention as part of your application process:

  • Your criteria on income amount (standard is monthly earnings be 3 times rent amount)
  • Your threshold for past evictions (saying not any allowed is perfectly okay)
  • Your required credit score level (standard is in 625-650 range, but you can pick any level) 

Having clearly defined thresholds publicized like the ones above will allow tenants to self-eliminate from applying if they know they won't pass muster.  And this makes your life as a landlord instantly easier: you'll only receive applications for people you know meet your pre-determined criteria.

And what do you think happens if you stick to your own rules?


That's exactly right! You are learning fast.


Step 2: Use a third-party screener that the applicant pays for

There are various vendors that will screen your tenant for you and run background and criminal checks as well as past evictions. These will have a  price range of $15-50 per tenant. 

The tenant screener I've used the most is TransUnion MySmartMove. It can be run in minutes.

Typically having a tenant pay for their own background check upfront (you can even offer to reimburse tenant back on first month rent if approved) is a great way to know that a tenant is serious and not wasting your time if they are willing to pay for their own reports.

I've had situations where I cover the cost, though. It all depends on the tenant class and environment you are going after. But it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.


Yes, we all can use as much of that as we can.


Step 3: Confirm, confirm, confirm

Anyone can make up their salary and credit score without running a report. But doing the 2 minutes of work to verify current employment and to talk to their previous landlords is where your true inner peace is going to be found.

For employment confirmation: Ask for most recent pay stub of the tenant.

For reference confirmation: Ask for the last 2 landlords the tenant had. Call their previous landlords (a real estate investor like you) and ask these simple questions:

  1. Did this tenant pay on time?
  2. Would you rent to this tenant again?
  3. Are there any issues I should be aware of with this tenant?

You'll get all the information you need with these 3 questions to fact check you already learned (and possibly know) in Step 1 and Step 2. 

It's really quick and easy this way, the first one that qualifies gets the lease to sign. And doing these things means what to you...?



Bingo! And that's the Zen we want for all the real estate investors out there. 



  • Follow fair housing laws to a T.
  • Upfront thresholds that you abide yourself make it easy
  • Have tenants pay and run their own screening through a third-party
  • Confirm employment and landlord references with a few simple questions

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