Come Out, Come out Wherever You Are: Finding and Keeping the Perfect Tenant

Property owners will all agree; the right tenant renting your property can make a huge difference. You want someone who will take care of the property as if it was their own, someone who will report damage or problems promptly, and someone who wants to stay for a long time. Most things that landlords look for in a tenant are hard to judge upon meeting the first time. Only time will tell whether a new tenant will respect the neighbors and be able to pay rent regularly every month for as long as they live on your property.

Naturally, all landlords request a credit check before approving a rental, but there may be a handful of candidates, all with a clean credit history. How can property owners judge which candidate will be best in the long term? Credit scores can show whether or not a potential renter has paid their bills on time, which is an incredibly important variable. Credit scores are based on previous credit card activity, payments, and balances. Some people who are completely trustworthy have no credit score simply because they have never had a credit card. While credit card companies view those people with suspicion, consider that if you’ve never had a credit card, you’ve always paid for things with money you have, rather than borrowing to pay for things.

There are a wide variety of websites offering credit checks, background checks, and rental history verification. These checks all cost some money, but most landlords charge their potential tenants for the basic credit check and some pay for additional checks on their own. The more you know, the better you’ll know who you are dealing with.

Another critical factor that most landlords already consider is past rentals. If a potential renter has rented in the same city in the past, how many places have they lived? What caused each move and why are they moving again? Some people will have perfectly reasonable explanations, such as the end or beginning of a relationship. If two people want to move in together and neither has the space for two people, they will need to find a new place. Similarly, if a couple splits up and one person has to find a new place, that may not reflect upon their qualification as a tenant.

Other reasons may not reflect so well on a candidate. Have they recently changed jobs and how often does that happen? Are they employed at all, and how does their income per month compare to monthly rent. Rent should be no more than a third of monthly income, and preferably rent should only be 1/8th of monthly income. If going out to the bar once a month may impact a renters ability to pay on time, they are a less fitting candidate than someone who can easily set aside rent payments.

If possible, a reference from a previous landlord can be an invaluable asset. Previous landlords can tell you whether or not their tenant respected the property and left on good terms. Additionally, a previous landlord should have no reason to be dishonest about the tenant’s time living on their property.

You can also learn a lot by interviewing the candidate directly. Ask the candidate about previous rentals and roommates. Find out whether or not the candidate feels like staying in the area for months, years, or decades. Interviews that are conducted in person are much more fruitful, because you can often tell when a candidate is holding back and when they are being honest. Many candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear, which may or may not be a bad thing. Getting a feel for what they are like can tell you a lot about whether or not you want them to live on your property.

If a direct interview isn’t possible, or if you have too many candidates to consider, incorporate a survey into your application materials. Again, ask as many relevant questions as possible and encourage the candidates to answer all questions honestly. Ask how much they pay in rent currently, or how much they paid at the last place of residence. Ask if they changed jobs recently and where they are employed. Again, ask whether or not they want to stay in the long term.

While you may not get honest or complete answers from everyone, the answers you do get will be informative and helpful. Choosing the right candidate can be difficult, but chances are you’ll find someone who wants to stay for 2 or more years and who you can get along with. Ensure that the rental agreement protects you both and then maintain open communications so that any problems are resolved quickly.