|By: Joe Hoover, Anni Adkins and Dr. Lew Deitch
Most landlords have experienced the wild Saturday night party when neighbors
must summon the police to quiet a rowdy crowd. They are equally familiar with
walking into an apartment or commercial space after a tenant has vacated only to
find the premises in shambles, requiring almost total renovation. In both
residential and commercial leases, there is a potential for lost income
resulting from the time to complete extensive repairs, or if a tenant breaks a
lease and suddenly vacates. These are nightmare scenarios that can be minimized
by conducting background checks before renting an apartment, condo, home or
commercial space to a prospective tenant. The steps presented in this article
will reduce the dangers of facing later evictions or costly repairs.
WHY SCREEN POTENTIAL RENTERS?
The implementation of a tenant screening process will minimize future tenant
problems. By checking on the background of a potential renter and thereby
establishing their qualification as a tenant, the risk of experiencing the
scenarios noted above becomes far lower. Not only do bad tenants cost owners and
managers money, their actions can also bring unforeseen liabilities for a
The Telephone Interview: Often the first contact with a prospective tenant is by
telephone, especially if the rental has been advertised in a local newspaper.
This is the time for the landlord or a representative to ask the right questions
that initiate the qualification process. Questions to be asked to residential as
well as commercial renters should include:
Questions to be asked to residential renters should also include:
- Name of prospective tenant
- Telephone contact number
- Date prospective tenant wishes to occupy premises
- Does the prospective tenant have landlord references?
In addition to asking the above questions, the landlord or representative should
inform the prospective tenant of the monthly rent, security deposit or other
up-front fees, as this often will eliminate the need for further screening if
the person cannot afford the price and fees being quoted.
- Reason for choosing to move
- Number of people in family
- Number of children, if any, and their ages
- Type and number of pets, if any
- Is anyone in the family a smoker?
Personal Interview: If both parties are satisfied following the telephone
interview, it is normal for a prospective tenant to wish to see the property.
This also affords the owner or representative an opportunity to meet the party
in question. Much can be gleaned from this interview.
The following are important items to note when meeting a prospective tenant:
Appearance - Is the person neatly groomed? Does the person make a good first
impression? A person that is unkempt is often one whose personal living space
will be similarly in disarray.
The Rental Application Form: A rental application form should require the
Vehicle - What type of conveyance does the person drive? It is neat and clean?
Also make note of the age and make of the vehicle, for this can give some
indication of either income level or a person's expense habits.
Personal Demeanor - It is important to appraise the person's overall attitude
and manners. Is the individual respectful, or is this the type of person that
will be difficult to deal with if any criticism or complaints should arise? If
any family members or business associates accompany the prospective renter, also
observe their demeanor. Depending upon conditions, did the renter, family
members or business associates wipe their feet when entering the premises? Were
any parties smoking without first asking permission? These mannerisms can tell a
lot about people.
Remember that this information should be confirmed by use of a database search.
If, during the search, names of friends or relatives not listed on the
application should appear, it is a good idea to follow through and check with
these individuals, as it may reveal hidden negative information the application
was attempting to hide.
- Full name of applicant, social security number, date of birth and current
address Applicant's addresses for the past ten years
- Landlord's names for past ten years (if rented during this time)
- Applicant's professional/trade licenses or certifications (for commercial
- Applicant's current employment and current salary
- Applicant's job description or occupation
- Applicant's past employment for a minimum of three years
- Applicant's highest level of education
- Credit references and a question regarding bankruptcy
- Questions regarding misdemeanor or felony record for applicant
- Names of all co-renters and occupants
- For co-renters who are not family members, a separate application should be
completed by each person.
- Three personal references, including addresses and telephone numbers
- Name of a relative not living with applicant, including relationship,
address and telephone number
- Driver's license number and state of issue (also make a copy of license)
- List of vehicles and license plate numbers
Personal references and past landlords are very major sources of the type of
information regarding character, demeanor and manner in which the applicant
maintains their personal property. Always ask a referee how long they have known
the applicant and if they deem the person to be reliable. Inquire about such
matters as their relationships with neighbors; any noise they or their pets may
have made that disturbed others and whether they left the property in good
condition. If it is possible to find other residents still living in a complex
where the applicant resided, further validate the person's character by talking
Employers are a valuable source of information regarding an applicant's
integrity, interpersonal work skills and demeanor. Contact human resources or
supervisory personnel to inquire about the person's work record for the dates
they have indicated. Also ask if the person was terminated or left of their own
If an applicant is self-employed or a business owner, ask for copies of business
banking statements for the past few months or for tax filings for the past year.
Also, the Secretary of State's corporation division will have information on
businesses that are incorporated. Business background checks can also be run to
verify the applicant's credit-worthiness and public relationships.
The signed application should include a "Release of Information Statement,"
which enables the landlord to then check the person's background to determine if
they have been truthful in answering all questions. This check is vital to
determining the character of a potential renter. In addition, a complete
background check will also determine financial responsibility and stability.
Signed applications with a "Release of Information Statement" should be obtained
from all adult parties who will occupy the premises. And each application should
be properly screened to eliminate later problems regarding financial stability
and personal behavior.
Essentially the background check validates the honesty of the prospective
tenant. Thus it is important to follow through with an actual screening check to
verify the information. Otherwise the application form serves no real purpose.
Also look for inconsistencies between parties when applications are
cross-checked. Background information may be confirmed by contacting references
or through records searches.
If a decision is made to deny rental, the application along with information
learned through the screening must be disclosed to the applicant as a reason for
Tenant Screening - Sample Release of Information Forms
Application for Release of Information
Application for Release of Information
Application & Notification for the Release of Information
Application & Notification for the Release of Information
RESOURCE INFORMATION AVAILABLE TO LANDLORDS FOR SCREENING
The following information is intended to provide landlords with information
regarding where to search for particular types of background information beyond
the obvious, such as the employers, other landlords and personal references.
Credit Information: Obtain a credit report on a prospective tenant from one of
the major credit reporting bureaus. The credit report is especially important
because it will indicate whether a particular person has a history of paying
bills such as rent on time.
Contact one of the credit bureaus or an information provider who is cleared to
access credit reports and who has agreed to comply with the Fair Credit
Reporting Act (FCRA), to obtain credit reports. This record is private and may
be released only with the consent of the individual in question. If in
possession of a signed release from the applicant, it is possible to receive
this information. Alternately, the prospective applicant can be asked to request
their credit report, which is free for the asking from any of the three consumer
bureaus. The credit report shows account and payment history, debt load, total
liabilities, collections, judgments, evictions, and bankruptcies.
If denying an applicant because of negative information on a credit report, the
applicant must be sent an "adverse action" letter, which informs the applicant
of three things: the reason for rejection, the name and address of the agency
that reported the negative information and, the applicant's right to obtain a
free copy of the report by requesting it from that agency within 60 days.
Criminal History Data: If there is any doubt as to the applicant's personal or
moral character, it is important to check for criminal history background.
Criminal information is public record held by the various courts. Federal
records are maintained at Federal District Courts. The State Department of
Justice keeps state records. State records are stored in Criminal Records
Repositories. The most comprehensive block of criminal files will be found at
any county courthouse.
Criminal history searches should include a county criminal court search, a
statewide criminal courts search, a national Department of Corrections felon
search, and a search of sexual offender databases. The OFAC's Patriot Act Search
Database is a watch list, essentially a compilation database of national and
It is important to know that criminal records are indexed by name and date of
birth. This information is often misrepresented by people who are attempting to
make it difficult to connect them to a record. Search databases inputting all
known and discovered name variations and aliases.
Criminal history records may reveal charges, adjudications and outcomes. In
addition, they can verify a person's true identity by revealing aliases along
with other vital statistics.
Business and Professional Licensing: When checking on self-employed or corporate
levels for an applicant who has listed their own business rather than an
employer, there are specific details one wishes to know. Is the business or
professional entity licensed? Most every company and individual doing business
is required to be licensed to do business in most communities. Verify any
required state license with the appropriate licensing entity, usually the
Secretary of State's Department of Professional Regulation keeps records about
licensed professionals and the Accountancy Board reports on those licenses.
It is also important to have the names of owners and principals, plus contact
information if the applicant is not the sole proprietor. The county courthouse
has "Doing Business As" (DBA) applications on file that contain information
about the people who filed the application. Corporations, partnerships, and sole
proprietorships are all registered. Their filings are public record. Much
information about business enterprises, corporations, and the people involved in
these various entities is available from state repositories generally located in
or near each state's capital.
Law Suits, Liens, Judgments, Bankruptcy Filings, and Tax Liens: These records
contain information pertaining to adjudication, assets, tax liens and mechanics
liens against individuals, business owners and principals. These records are
mostly stored at the county courthouse where the individual or business is
located. State Records contain UCC filings, information about liens, collateral,
litigation, and judgments. Litigation initiated by the government, such as
bankruptcy filings and tax liens, are within the Federal Court System.
Notice to Users of Consumer Reports: Obligations of Users Under the FCRA
IMPORTANT DATABASE SEARCH REMINDERS
When searching the various databases, keep in mind that previous addresses,
landowners, and roommates are often revealed in these database searches.
Eviction database searches confirm application input information.
Sex Offender databases can be scrutinized.
National trace detail searches confirm identity, past addresses, and identify
Credit Header searches confirm social security numbers provided by applicant.
If selecting an information provider or tenant screening company, look for one
with connections to a network of nationwide eviction databases and with direct
access and fast turnaround time. A local eviction or skip tracer database source
may not provide sufficient background information on a tenant moving in from
another state. A
Tenant Background Check
can be run immediately using our connections to a large network of databases.
ADDITIONAL TENANT SCREENING ITEMS IF NEEDED
Also Know As (AKA's); it is important to discover other names associated with an
Has applicant used other social security numbers in the past?
Date and place social security number issued
Others associated with applicant's social security number
Bankruptcies, tax liens, civil judgments
Civil litigation search
Article provided by: Investigative Professionals LLC, ©2013 Information