What's the best way to screen tenants?

Savvy landlords should ask all prospective tenants to fill out a written rental application that includes the following information:

  • employment, income, and credit history
  • Social Security and driver's license numbers
  • past evictions or bankruptcies, and
  • references.

Before choosing tenants, landlords should check with previous landlords and other references; verify income, employment, and bank account information; and obtain a credit report. The credit report is especially important because it will indicate whether a particular person has a history of paying rent or bills late, has gone through bankruptcy, or has ever been evicted.

To avoid trouble with fair housing laws, be sure to be consistent and fair in your screening. For instance, make it your policy to require credit reports from all applicants.  Failure to be consistent can put you and your property at risk.