I’ve gotten so many questions and comments about being a landlord and although I don’t consider myself an expert at it, I’ve been successful for a few years now. I’ve learned a ton during that time and I’ve always strived to be an ethical landlord, meaning I want to provide a safe, comfortable and affordable home to people who will treat it well. I also only rent places I would be happy to live myself. So today I’m sharing my tips on how to screen renters and how I work to be an ethical landlord, plus how to find a legit landord!
How to pick good renters
Have a screening process
Doing your due diligence and finding a renter that fits all your criteria is essential to the health of of your property/ investment, your cash flow and your income. The best way to do that is to find a process that you can use every time and that filters out people that are a no from the get-go.
For example, when I’ve posted an ad for my rental on Facebook Marketplace I had an auto-response to every person inquiring that would then direct them to a fillable Google form. The form has some basic info any landlord would need like name, address, income etc… and has a few screening questions about how many people would be living in the property, if there are any pets, etc.
Inevitably, many respondents ignored the form and continued to ask questions which answers were clearly listed in the ad. If someone can’t follow basic instructions or refuses to fill out a simple google form then they’re probably not going to be the easiest renter and probably not for you.
Use your gut
Is the potential tenant late to your showing, do they demand immediate rules changes or renovations? Do you think they will take care of your property well? A landlord-tenant relationship is a relationship where you will have to have contact and ideally mutual respect. You should be able to trust they will pay their rent, keep up the place and they should be able to trust you to promptly fix things that are broken and provide a safe, comfortable place to live for their money.
Credit scores matter
I run criminal background and credit checks on the person/ people who are my choice to be my next tenant after screening. Don’t let Dave Ramsey tell you otherwise, your credit score matters.. but maybe not the way you think.
Landlords are not looking for a perfect credit score.
As a landlord, to me your credit score is an indicator of how able you are to pay your bills. Medical debts or student loans aren’t something I worry about unless the total monthly payments would make it impossible to pay the rent, but previous collections accounts, prior evictions, or if you owe money to previous places you’ve lived means that I might not get rent from you either.
Of course, there could be reasons for people who have bad credit and that’s why I like to ask beforehand if there’s anything that I will find during the check. People change and some money situations can be devestating. If you’re up front about it and explain, we can probably figure it out.
However, if I’m told that nothing will show up and something does… that ends the conversation for me because if you’re attempting to hide things or be untruthful now, I anticipate that will continue after you have the keys to something very valuable to me.
I use Apartments.com to run a credit and background check on tenants before signing leases. It costs about $50 for the pair and I take the amount off the first month’s rent.
I know more than one landlord who forewent the background check and ended up with illicit things happening on their property, a squatting tenant who wouldn’t pay or a tenant in jail while their partner trashed the place. Checks aren’t a 100% guarantee, but it certainly helps.
If someone refuses a background check or lies on their application those are red flags. If they try to hide any information during the application process or take issue with the questions on the Google form or want to pay for their entire rent upfront in cash those are pretty big red flags. All of those things should be further investigated because at face value they are cause for concern.
Now, I want to flip this around if you were the one renting. I’m going to share how to find a good landlord and how I work as an ethical landlord to my tenants.
How to find a good landlord
Always tour the exact unit you are renting
Don’t be fooled by pictures or display units, since these are meant to showcase a unit in the best light. Tour the exact unit or home that you plan on renting so that you can see for yourself that there’s nothing gross hiding and waiting for you on your move-in date.
Protip: See if you have cell service in the unit during your tour and bring a charger to test a few wall outlets. If outlets don’t work, the home likely isn’t well maintained.
Read through your lease carefully
Make sure you know what’s your responsibility in your lease. For example, are you responsible for maintaining the lawn of the house? Is there a move-out cleaning fee? What are the rules surrounding smoking or having parties? Make sure that there are no hidden fees and that you’re comfortable with signing the agreement.
What kind of process does the landlord have for renting?
Make sure the landlord has systems in place for screening renters and with payment processes. You should have a formal lease, signed by you both, be given keys, a report of the condition of the home, etc. Everything should be above board and feel professional. You should be told a process to report issues.
If the landlord’s only communication is through text and they avoid answering questions or take days to reply at the beginning, consider if that’s someone you’d be comfortable calling if something happens in your rental. You also need to trust your gut!
Tour the neighborhood beforehand
A good indicator of a property or building is how well it’s been maintained on the outside. Also, doing a drive-by or walk-around during the day and night can give you a good indicator of the feel for the neighborhood and whether the area suits your needs.
Lastly, for both renters and landlords…
Manage your expectations
With anything in life, nothing is totally perfect so manage your expectations when either renting out or renting a place. Try to do right by the other person and the home and you should be fine.