Tenant Screening and Rental

Tenant screening is an important part of the rental application process, for both landlord and potential tenants. This helps ensure that both parties are a good fit, prior to signing contracts and moving in, at which point it's much more complicated to back out of the deal.

Keep in mind, there are laws governing what a landlord and tenant may or may not do during this process.


For Landlords

Fair Housing Complaints

There are federal housing laws that prohibit discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability.  Landlords must be careful not to violate any of these laws otherwise they are subject to strict penalties and fines and/or being barred from doing business with the federal government.  The following are a list of federal housing laws:

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability).”

Civil Rights Act of 1964 

"Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

"Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Act

"Section 109 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion in programs and activities receiving financial assistance from HUD's Community Development and Block Grant Program.”

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

"Title II prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs, services, and activities provided or made available by public entities. HUD enforces Title II when it relates to state and local public housing, housing assistance and housing referrals.”

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968

"The Architectural Barriers Act requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and useable by handicapped persons.”

Age Discrimination Act of 1975

"The Age Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Fair housing complaints can be made with the Housing & Urban Development Agency (HUD) either online or by calling the toll free number at 1 800 669-9777 or by mail to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development, Room 5204, 451 Seventh Street SW, Washington, DC 20410-2000. 

Advertising Your Rental Property

Landlords should consider using more than one method to advertise their property to reach as many potential tenants as possible. The type of advertising varies depending on such factors as the type of property, location, price, sense of urgency, and budget.  Here are common places that landlords can advertise:

  • Internet
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Signs
  • Internet sites such as Craig’s List   
  • Neighborhood Flyers placed at supermarket, laundramat, etc.
  • Apartment Services
  • Word of Mouth, Other tenants
  • College Campuses
  • Realtor
  • Property Management Company

Checking Credit and References

Before leasing to any tenant, landlords should check the prospective tenant’s credit, bank references, references from former landlords and current employers. Carefully screening tenants will alleviate the risk of getting a problem tenant.  It costs money to evict a tenant and get a new tenant so by carefully making the right choice to begin with landlords can save themselves a lot of time, money and hassles.

Choosing and Rejecting Applicants

To avoid violating any housing discrimination laws, be consistent with the way you interview, choose and reject applicants.  Use the same questions for every tenant when screening. This will help you keep the process consistent.   Have everyone fill out an application.  Look for tenants that are stable, have decent credit, steady employment and enough income to afford the rent. Gross income should be 2 – 3 x’s as much as the monthly rental.  Also get identification such as a driver’s license or passport number.    

Landlords have the right to reject tenants as long as they do not violate any discrimination laws. If you run a background check on a tenant and decide they are not right for you it is best to just tell them that you are considering other applicants as well and will let them know if you decide to select them instead of just rejecting them.  This way you don’t run the risk of offending anyone or accidently violating any laws by saying the wrong thing.  You should never say that you already rented your unit if you have not, you can let in a lot of trouble doing that.

For Tenants

How to Find Rental Housing

The following are common sources for finding rental housing:

  • Internet
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Signs
  • Internet sites such as Craig’s List  
  • Neighborhood Flyers placed on billboards at supermarket, laundromat, etc.
  • Apartment Services
  • Word of Mouth, Other tenants
  • College Campuses
  • Realtor
  • Property Management Company

Visiting Rental Options

Decide what type of property you want to rent first.  Then decide what your budget is, the location, type of amenities you are looking for such as a security building, pet friendly, etc. Do you need short term housing or long term?  Are you interested in rent to own or lease option? These are all things that tenants need to decide in order to make the right rental choice.

Applications and Credit Checks

Most landlords will require you to complete a rental application and a form allowing the prospective tenants credit to be checked. You will have to provide your social security number and written authorization for a credit and background check to make sure you don’t have any violent criminal convictions. Landlords want to make sure you have a stable history of paying your bills on time as well.  Your credit report says a lot about your character.

Being Rejected

If your application is turned down, find out why. If it has to do with your credit or background check, ask to see a copy of the credit report or background report to make sure there are no errors. If the information is accurate, offer to pay a higher rent, larger security deposit or get a co-signer if you really want the unit. If you can prove that your rental history does not have anything to do with your bad credit, then the landlord may change their mind and rent the unit to you. Get a reference form a former landlord stating that you paid your rent on time. If none of that works, then keep trying until you find someone that is willing to rent to you and try to improve your credit.

Being Accepted

The landlord will usually notify you within 2 -3 days if your tenant application form has been accepted.  Once it has, you will want meet with the landlord to go over the lease, the moving date, payment arrangements and arrange for keys to be delivered, utilities transferred to your name, etc.  You will need to make moving arrangements and decide if you are going to pay for professional movers or do it yourself.  A couple days before you move in, you should do a final walk through to make sure the apartment has been cleaned and any repairs that were negotiated in the lease have been made.