Tenant Screening Methods and Tips

How to find a good tenant? The first thing to do is verify employment. Many companies these days make it difficult to do this.  They will give you a website to subscribe to, ask you to send them a fax, or give you an 800 number to call with an automated system that can be difficult to navigate.  If you use these methods, the best you can usually get is that they are currently employed there and when they started.  The best method is to just ask the applicant to provide recent pay stubs or tax returns.  If after seeing their documents you are still not sure, then try to contact their employer.

The use of a credit report is an excellent method to see if someone is responsible for their finances.  However, you need to consider the fact that traditionally people with perfect credit can qualify for a loan and may not be a long-term renter.  Or more likely you will not find that person with good credit who wants to rent your home.   There is also a large group of renters out there that went through foreclosure and their credit scores are terrible but don’t have any other significant debt.   It is best to look at the details of their credit report instead of just looking at the score.

There are paid services we use to do nationwide searches on criminal history, but you have to be careful when you are screening applicants with common names like Smith or Jones.  If you do a nationwide search on one of these common names you will get reports from everyone in the country with that name that has a criminal record, it is up to you to figure out if that is the person you are trying to screen.  The best approach is to try to limit the search to just a state or county.  If the applicant did something bad in Will Co. you can see it for free at or visit the 2nd floor of the courthouse in Joliet and look them up.  You still need to be aware of common names but if you have their current address and date of birth you can use that information as a cross-reference to zero in on the person you are screening.

An eviction is the most important thing we as Property Managers look for in screening a tenant.   If someone is being evicted, they are usually out looking for a place to rent.  They likely will say, I have to be out by the weekend or I have 2 weeks to move.  If they say that to you make sure you check to see if they are being evicted.  If they currently live in Will Co. you can use the same system listed above to find out if they are getting thrown out.  You want to look for cases that say “Forcible Entry & Detainer”.  If you see that, beware.

A current landlord reference, in my opinion, is the least reliable method for screening a tenant.  Getting rid of a bad tenant is expensive and time-consuming, the faster you can do it the better.  Many owners would prefer to have them move voluntarily instead of going through the courts.  They may give the tenant a good reference just to try to get them out sooner.  If you can get to a previous landlord, not the current landlord, then those references will be much more reliable.

One last tip that we use, is to drop in on the applicant unannounced to see the condition they keep their current residence.  If they trashed the property where they currently live, they will surely trash yours.