As with most things, there are many options available when it comes to screening possible tenants. Today landlords have even more options then ever before and the results and effort required can range greatly from a good ol' gut check to having tenants supply their own credit reports or digging a little deeper and having a screening company verify application information. You may feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to get the best information for the least amount of money.
Having been in the industry for 29 years, RSI employees have seen it all. We have heard countless horror stories about how massively other screening measures have failed a given landlord. And while we always say "go with your gut" the advice is constantly balanced with the addendum "be sure to check the facts".
Here is a step by step guide to accomplishing exactly that:
1.) Do not put all the power in the tenant's hands!
Many new screening companies offer tenant driven background screening. The setup process is less ominous, however, as a landlord you are completely dependant on the applicant submitting their request for information. You do not want to miss out on other potential renters while waiting for an applicant to move forward on a background check.
2.) Make sure your reports are accurate.
Online screening companies that are not able to provide manual interpretation are going to result in screening reports with the most inaccuracies. To clarify this point, imagine this scenario: Your applicant's name is John Smith. There are thousands of John Smiths with the same birthday as your applicant. When you submit a request for a background check on John Smith the computer pulls information from a database which includes reports for any John Smith with that birthday. The computer is not able to weed out the information that does not apply to your John Smith. A screening company with a trained investigative staff is able to pull through those records and report only the applicable information..... and that is exactly what you want.
3.) Get the bases covered.
There are four major musts every screening report should include: Social Security verification insures that your applicant is actually who they claim to be. Make sure that you are also checking valid photo identification and that the information on your tenant's application matches the identification provided (name, birthday, and address if applicable). Criminal Record searches (including sex offender records) can be either state specific or nation-wide. Make sure you get information about limitations in the nation-wide database for your particular state. Colorado records, for example, are more accurate through the state specific database. A nation-wide criminal search would not provide complete records for Colorado residents..... don't waste your time or money with weak searches! Eviction Record searches are very important for one basic reason: If a possible tenant has had one eviction, they are more likely to have another. The eviction process is the worst case scenario for a landlord; taxing to your finances, time and property. Always avoid renting to a previously evicted tenant. Finally, be sure to include credit information in your screening. A Credit Report will paint a complete picture about an applicant's ability to pay rent and their history for paying on time. Additionally, we recommend that you (or your screening company if they have the capacity and training to do so) always make reference phone calls to verify employment and rental history with previous landlords.
4.) Have backup.
Should you have a question about report results or an issue during the screening process, you will want to be able to reach a resolution quickly and with positive results. Hire a screening company with a good customer service record and well trained personnel who are easily reachable at a moments notice.
By choosing the right screening company, and screening for accurate and useful information, you can be confident that you are welcoming the best possible resident into your rental property.