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Tenant screening checklist: Free template for landlords

tenant screening checklist
by Jeff Rohde, posted in Investment Strategy

A tenant screening checklist can be a valuable tool to help you navigate the tenant selection process and prevent potential headaches.

This article walks you through the ins and outs of a screening checklist. We discuss its crucial role in successful rentals, break down the key components, and share a free template you can use.

A checklist can help save you time, money, and stress. Let’s explore this powerful resource every landlord and property manager should have in their rental toolkit.

Why use a tenant screening checklist?

We all want to find the perfect tenant: someone who pays rent on time, treats the property respectfully, and is generally easy to work with. How do you ensure someone’s the right fit? That’s where a tenant screening checklist can help.

A checklist acts as a roadmap and helps structure the process of evaluating potential tenants. It’s a systematic approach to selecting the right tenant for your rental property and helps you gather all the necessary information to make an informed decision.

Why is using one so important? The answer lies in the potential problems that can arise when landlords fail to thoroughly vet a prospective tenant, thereby increasing the odds that you end up with a troublesome tenant. 

Late or missed rent payments, property damage, and constant complaints from neighbors are just a few of the issues landlords often face. They can lead to financial losses, legal issues, and other headaches.

Here’s how a tenant screening checklist can help prevent these problems:

  • Consistency: This list can ensure you evaluate all rental applications using the same criteria. Doing so works to make the process fair and reduces the chances of missing critical red flags.
  • Comprehensive evaluation: A thorough checklist covers everything from credit checks to references. This comprehensive evaluation gives you a holistic view of the potential tenant, helping you avoid making decisions based solely on first impressions.
  • Legal compliance: A structured tenant screening process can help you comply with the Fair Housing Act. Treating each applicant equally and making decisions based on objective criteria reduces the risk of costly discrimination claims.
  • Peace of mind: Ultimately, a tenant screening checklist offers you peace of mind. Knowing you’ve done your due diligence and chosen the best possible tenant today can save you a lot of stress tomorrow.

Example of a checklist for screening tenants

Now, let’s review an example of a tenant screening checklist, breaking down each part to understand its purpose. 

Upfront vetting

Pre-screening is your initial interaction with potential renters. It’s where you begin to gauge their interest and suitability. Ask preliminary questions about their employment, income, and reasons for moving to help determine if they meet your standard criteria.

Application form

After pre-screening, the best practice is to then provide a rental application form to interested prospective tenants. It should request essential information such as their full name, contact details, previous addresses, and current employer. 

The application is a crucial document that gives you the necessary details to conduct further checks.

Credit check

A credit check gives you an idea of the prospective renter’s financial stability. It assesses their ability to manage their finances and pay bills on time. A good credit score generally indicates financial responsibility, but remember to also consider the entire financial picture, not just the score.

Background check

Carrying out a background check lets you review any criminal records and eviction history. The safety and security of your property and any other tenants on the property should be paramount, so understanding whether your potential tenant’s rental, eviction, and/or criminal history could pose a risk is a vital piece of the puzzle.

Reference checks

References can provide valuable insights into an applicant’s character and reliability. Contact previous landlords and employers to learn more about the applicant’s punctuality in paying rent and overall behavior.

Income verification

Income verification confirms the potential tenant’s earnings through pay stubs or bank statements. This step ensures a tenant’s income can comfortably cover the rent. 

Generally, the recommended rule is for the tenant’s monthly income to be at least three times the monthly rent, although many landlords suspend this rule of thumb in more expensive rental markets.

Lease agreement review

Once you find a suitable tenant, review the lease agreement with them. This way, you can verify they understand their obligations and responsibilities under the lease. Clear communication at this stage can prevent future misunderstandings and disputes.

Free tenant screening checklist template for landlords

Each step of the screening process contributes to building a comprehensive profile of your potential tenant. Working through the checklist can help you feel confident about who you choose to entrust your property to. If you’re interested in the checklist below, download the official list here.

You can also download your free tenant screening checklist template in Google Docs or Word.

A better option for screening tenants

A tenant screening checklist can be a beneficial resource but isn’t perfect. For instance, landlords sometimes fail to execute a proper background check or don’t bother to confirm a tenant’s income due to the practical hurdles involved in both steps. This can inadvertently set the stage for financial headaches later. 

You want to strike the right balance and be thorough in your approach, which is where Stessa can lend a helping hand.

Our fully integrated tenant screening simplifies the process, saving you time and stress. It includes credit reports, background checks, and more. The best part? You can access it simply by signing up for a free Stessa account.

Tips and tricks for successful tenant screening

Whether you’re just getting started in real estate or are an experienced investor with a diverse portfolio, proper tenant screening is crucial when managing residential rental properties. Here are a few tips and tricks you can employ to master the art of tenant screening: 

  • Set clear criteria: Before screening, define what makes an ideal tenant for you. You could base your criteria on income level, credit score, employment status, and other objective factors. Clear tenant screening criteria can help you streamline the screening process and help prevent discrimination claims.
  • Be consistent: Apply the same screening process to all applicants. Consistency keeps you compliant with fair housing laws and helps ensure you’re comparing people equally when evaluating potential tenants.
  • Trust your gut, but verify: First impressions matter, but they shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. If something seems off when you first meet someone or things don’t seem to add up on the application, do your due diligence to confirm or dispel your suspicions.
  • Look beyond the numbers: A high credit score and proof of income are good, but they aren’t everything. Consider the applicant’s rental history, references, and behavior during the application process as well.
  • Understand local laws: Tenant screening laws vary by location. Make sure you understand your local laws to avoid potential legal issues.
  • Document everything: Keep records of all your interactions and screenings. This documentation can be crucial if a dispute arises.
  • Avoid rushing the process: Quickly filling a vacancy can be tempting, but patience pays off in the long run. Taking the time to screen applicants thoroughly can potentially save you from costly evictions or property damages.
  • Leverage technology: Online tools and services can assist you in structuring your screening process. They can help automate tasks like credit and background checks, saving time and effort.

Download a free tenant screening checklist here.

Successful rentals start with Stessa tenant screening

Having responsible, reliable tenants is essential. Proper tenant screening reduces the risk of unpaid rent and potential financial losses.

Stessa, built by and for residential rental property owners, recognizes the critical importance of this process. Our tenant screening services are free for landlords (the applicant covers the report cost). Plus, we provide an easy-to-use and mobile-friendly application for prospective renters.

Take the guesswork out of tenant screening and make a confident, informed decision using Stessa’s integrated screening services. While you’re at it, take advantage of our other comprehensive tools designed to simplify asset management, including:

  • Real-time visibility into your property and portfolio performance
  • Landlord banking services with integrated FDIC-insured accounts*
  • Automated rent collection services
  • A resource-rich tax center
  • Hassle-free insurance services tailored to landlords through a partnership with Steadily

Successful rentals start with diligent tenant screening. Sign up for Stessa (it’s free to start) and experience the difference it can make with your rental properties.

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