Important Steps to Take When Vetting Rental Applicants

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Although interviewing applicants for your property may feel daunting, it’s an important step in finding the right tenant. Finding a tenant you have a rapport with from the beginning and who meets your rental criteria can make the whole rental experience easier on everyone and helps to ensure your relationship remains mutually respectful. So, which steps should you take when vetting applicants? Here are a few helpful tips. Please note that this is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.


Interviewing applicants can take up a lot of your valuable time, but you can reduce your workload by pre-screening them before moving forward. Some of the most important things to consider when pre-screening are:

Monthly Income

If your tenant can’t afford the rent, approving them for your rental is taking on a risk – and potentially setting them up for failure. Neither is fair, to you or the applicant. It’s recommended to select applicants who make at least 3x the amount of rent to make sure they’ll be able to cover it comfortably.

Credit Score

Many people have things that have negatively affected their credit score, but you should check to make sure that their score is in at least the “good” range. Credit scores show how a person handles their financial responsibilities, so it’s critical to make sure you’re choosing an applicant who’s in good standing with their debt and payments.

Employment History

Employment history can give you insight into an applicant’s reliability and stability. Although employment gaps aren’t necessarily red flags (especially if they happened during the pandemic) they could signal that your applicant has difficulty holding a job – which could affect their ability to pay rent consistently and on time.

Background Checks

It’s also common for seasoned landlords and larger rental agencies to run a background check and a credit check as part of their vetting process. These types of screenings can give you information about:

  • Criminal Records
    A criminal record can be a concern, particularly if your vacancy is in an apartment building where other people could be at risk. However, keep in mind that not all criminal records are the same – and be sure to check your state and local laws to make sure you’re using criminal records legally.
  • Past Evictions
    Although there are always two sides to a story, past evictions could be a red flag. While an eviction doesn’t necessarily mean the applicant would be a risky tenant, it’s worth asking them about it during an interview, as well as discussing it with their previous landlord.
  • Public Records and Court Cases
    Past lawsuits that appear on the background check should also be discussed with the applicant. Although some lawsuits are unavoidable and will have no basis in how the applicant would perform as a tenant (like divorce or child custody), other lawsuits may give you information about how they handle financial matters and how responsible they are, such as bankruptcy or unpaid child support.

What Should You Look for in the Rental Application or During the Interview?

After you’ve prescreened your applicant, it’s time to take a close look at their application and begin the interview process. Here are a few things you should look for on the application:

  • – All portions of the application should be completely filled out. References should have working contact information, dates should be filled in, etc.
  • – Ideally, employment history should have no gaps. If the applicant doesn’t include contact information for past employers, this could signal that they may have left on bad terms or were an unreliable employee in some way. Their employment field can also give some clues as to whether they’ll be able to afford rent or not.
  • – Lifestyle factors like pets or working night shifts should also be listed on the application to give you an idea of whether your property will be a good fit for their living situation.

To save time verifying information on the rental application, you may want to consider our tenant verification service. We’ll reach out to the current and previous landlord and current employer on your behalf to confirm the information provided on the application is accurate. Taking time to speak to their references gives insight into the honesty of your applicant and how they may behave as a tenant. For example, a past landlord may have important information about whether the tenant paid rent on time, how they cared for the property, and how they got along with neighbors. Talking to their employer can also give you valuable information about how they work with colleagues, their overall reputation, whether they’re a reliable employee, and whether they have a steady source of income.

Once the application checks out, you can prepare the questions for your interview. A rental interview is very similar to a job interview in that you’re essentially trying to determine whether the applicant will be a good fit. Some important “dos and don’ts” to remember when conducting an interview:

  • – DO ask about their employment and income
  • – DON’T ask about anything that could be considered a violation of the Fair Housing Act
  • – DO ask how many adults would be living at the property
  • – DON’T ask if they’re married or have kids, as this could be seen as discriminatory
  • – DO get approval to run a credit check
  • – DON’T have different rental criteria or screening methods for one applicant versus another. All your rental criteria and screenings should be the same across the board
  • – DO ask if the applicant has ever been evicted
  • – DON’T ask if the applicant has ever been arrested

If you have difficulty coming up with questions to ask, take a look at our list of 23 questions to ask potential renters.

Although the interview process can be lengthy, it’s well worth it to ensure you’re choosing the best tenant for your property! And with our tenant verification and screening services, you can cut down the time you spend on the pre-screening process. For more information on tenant screening and verification, visit our services page or contact TSCI at 800-523-2381.

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