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How to Screen Tenants in 5 Steps and Save Money on your Rental

by Kevin Kiene
how to screen tenants

One of the most important things landlords can do to ensure that they get the most out of their rental is to have an effective “How to Screen Tenants” process. This process is a key first step towards ensuring that rental properties are well taken care of, that rent is paid on time, and that landlords don’t have to deal with the headaches that come from difficult tenants. Bad tenants are stressful, disruptive, and expensive for landlords!

While an effective tenant screening process is always important, it’s even more important during the pandemic due to the eviction moratorium and the added difficulties of turning over properties. Here are 5 steps on how to screen tenants that should be part of your tenant screening process to make sure that you’re effectively screening tenants and protecting your property.

1. Start with an Application to Screen Tenants

All prospective tenants should complete an application that covers the key information that landlords or property managers need for the screening process. As a baseline, the application should ask for the applicant’s full name, current address and prior address, contact information for the current and prior landlord, employment information, and income.

A strong application is a crucial aspect of how to screen tenants, as it can help to prescreen tenants and provide the necessary information to complete a comprehensive screening. Plus, it’s often the first interaction that landlords have with potential tenants, and a good application helps to set the tone for the relationship.

2. Get a Full Credit Report

When considering how to screen tenants, a credit check is essential for getting a glimpse at an applicant’s financial history. In some states, this is an expense that landlords pay while other states allow landlords to pass the expense on to applicants. Either way, it’s a necessary expense.

A good credit report will include the applicant’s FICO score, credit accounts, payment history, judgments, bankruptcies, and other red flags in the applicant’s financial history. There are a variety of companies that offer credit reports, but the easiest way to get this information is through a tenant screening service.

Using this type of service lets landlords make one payment and get access to all relevant reports. It’s a simple way for landlords to save time and money while also getting the peace of mind to know that they have the information they need.

ezLandlordForms has partnered with TransUnion Credit Bureau to offer landlords a comprehensive credit report as part of their tenant screening service. The credit report offered with this service includes all key information and won’t impact the applicant’s credit score.

3. Do a Background Check

When exploring how to screen tenants, after seeing a tenant’s credit report, it can be tempting for landlords to decide that they know enough about an applicant to make a decision. Yet, it’s still important to run a background check, as this gives a glimpse of a tenant’s history beyond simply financial information.

When selecting a service for doing a background check, find one that offers data from at least 10 years, shows nationwide data, sex offender data, fraud alerts, identification verification, and even includes national law enforcement databases and most wanted lists.

Rather than shopping around to find the right list that shows the information that landlords need, it’s easier and more effective to select a screening service that includes a thorough background check.

4. Talk with References

In addition to running the necessary reports, landlords should talk with applicants’ references, including at least two previous landlords to screen tenants. After getting a good report from an applicant’s current landlord, it might seem unnecessary to contact the previous landlord. However, in the case of bad tenants, landlords might be willing to provide a good report in hopes of having the tenant move. To avoid this issue, it’s always a good idea to talk with the current and previous landlord.

A good screening process also involves talking with applicants’ employers. This not only serves to verify employment but also provides an opportunity to learn more about an applicant. Generally, good employees make good tenants, so the more you can learn about an applicant’s work habits, the better prepared you’ll be to make a decision about whether they’ll be a good tenant.

5. Conduct an Interview

After gathering and reviewing all the necessary information, it’s a good idea to conduct a short interview with applicants. This provides an additional opportunity to learn more about potential tenants and to ask any questions you have after reviewing reports and talking with references.

Additionally, this is a chance to ask any remaining questions you have, for example, what’s the applicant’s regular work schedule, does the applicant have family and friends that regularly spend the night, or does the applicant smoke.

How to Screen Tenants: FAQs

What questions should I ask for tenant screening?

When screening tenants, ask these essential questions: 

  1. Can you provide references from previous landlords? 
  2. What is your monthly income? 
  3. Have you ever been evicted? 
  4. Do you have any pets? 
  5. How many people will be living in the rental? 
  6. When do you plan to move in?
How to do a background check?
  1. Obtain written consent from the applicant. 
  2. Use a reputable screening service. 
  3. Request the applicant’s full name, date of birth and Social Security number. 
  4. Verify criminal history, credit history, and rental history. 
  5. Comply with fair housing laws.


Following these 5 steps will ensure that you’re conducting the best, how to screen tenants, process, laying the foundation for a good landlord-tenant relationship, and setting yourself up for the best landlord experience possible.

ezLandlordForms offers the tools landlords need to make tenant screening easy and affordable, including a thorough application and a complete tenant screening service. Visit ezLandlordForms.com to access these tools or to learn more about tenant screening.

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3 years ago

I was looking for 5 steps and noticed there are 5 but there’s more than one #3. LOL
If a negative background history cannot be used in denying an applicant, what’s the point?

George V O'Brien
George V O'Brien
2 years ago
Reply to  Theresa

Don’t rent to them

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