How Can You Tell if a Tenant is Right for You?

Real Estate Technology with Innago

A landlord’s job can be mighty tricky, especially when it comes to the process of selecting new renters. Not many people desire to be in the position of splitting hairs and passing judgement on strangers based on little more than the fact that they look good on paper. It can be a tough role to play.

Lucky for you, there is a whole arsenal of strategies one can implement to help screen tenants more effectively and impartially. These tactics take the guesswork out of the equation and allow property managers to make informed decisions based on the facts.

Read on to learn about all the resources you can utilize to help cull your candidate pool.

Looking Good on Paper

When it comes to getting a feel for potential tenants, nothing beats the black and white. From the information you request from them in the formal application, to the details that surface on background check reports, all will help guide you to make the right decision for your space. Let’s explore these different kinds of paperwork and how they can serve you.

Rental Application

While reports like credit checks and eviction backgrounds can be a treasure trove of information on candidates, a lot can also be learned from a well-crafted rental application. Depending on what kind of questions you ask, you can strategically uncover detail that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

You’ll want to be sure to ask for standard information like employment history, current and prior residence information, proof of income, and personal references. Furthermore, depending on your specific policies or requirements, you might want to consider adding questions about pets, vehicles, or anything else that might influence your decision.

The next step after collecting and reviewing this key information is acting on it. What good is a landlord or employer reference if you never call or check to verify its authenticity? In a worst-case scenario, a one-minute follow-up call can turn your first-rate candidate into an absolute non-contender. It’s a small price to pay to weed out potential dishonest dealings.

Credit Report

There are three primary credit reporting agencies, or CRA’s, in the US: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. With this dominance over the marketplace, their offerings are quite similar. Any credit report run by one of these agencies should include the following.

Basic Information: Applicant identification, address history, any other names or aliases

Fraud Indicators: Notification in the event of a SSN mismatch

Tradeline Summary: History of payments on active credit accounts

Inquiries: Companies that have also viewed the applicant’s credit history within the last two years

Credit/Resident Score: A number indicating the applicant’s creditworthiness

Because this information and process has been well standardized, the process of evaluating its findings is pretty straightforward. It will be up to you to determine what parameters and expectations you will set for your own renting criteria, if there is a minimum credit score you are looking for, and what other indicators may disqualify a candidate.

Criminal Report

Criminal reports are decidedly less straightforward than the clear-cut credit report outlined above. They can vary quite a bit due to the geographical nature of the courts. Depending on where an offender is tried, the laws and administrative procedure can differ, leading to gaps and inconsistencies in reporting.

The best types of criminal background reports take this into account and take action to prevent any lack of, or misinformation. Innago, for example, uses the applicant’s SSN to accurately track and review his or her activity. This eliminates the potential for error when it comes to identifying a person.

There are three different sources for information when it comes to a criminal report: county court records, state records, and national records. Generally speaking, for the purpose of landlords, utilizing a check that pulls from the national database will be your best bet. It is the most comprehensive search, pulling from all existing state databases, and can often be bundled with other record checks like sex offenders or terrorist watch lists. It is also a quick solution, as results are available almost instantly.

While sifting through the county and state records individually might seem like the most thorough approach, what you make up for in accuracy you will absolutely lose in time and money. Typically, if anything egregious does exist, it will be well-documented and readily available for your review through the national database search. This will be the most efficient way to swiftly confirm the histories of all applicants.

Eviction Report

For some landlords, this very well may be the most important box on the screening checklist. Falling in with a tenant who is prone to evictions is like winning the worst kind of lottery. For this reason, it is imperative that you build an eviction report screen into your process.

In the past, eviction reports were automatically generated as a part of the standard credit report; however, in July of 2017 a law was passed that made such activity illegal. Now landlords seeking this information must make sure to explicitly request it.

The Human Approach

Now that you’ve put your applicants through a rigorous vetting process on paper, it’s time to see how those qualities translate in real time. Below we will show you have to take a more strategic and manual approach to screening and use your best judgement as a practiced property manager.

Passive Screening

One key element of passive screening takes place before you’ve even got a tenant on the line. This is your marketing strategy. It’s all about what you are putting out into the public sphere and where and how you are putting it there. For example, you can consider what websites or classifieds you might be advertising in and what kind of audience those pages attract.

If you’re in a small college town and your aim is to appeal to students, think about where they are getting their information. It might not be wise to publish in the daily paper. Instead, you could consider posting flyers in the coffeeshop around the corner or getting added to the student-run listing site. Understanding your target audience and meeting them where they are is a crucial element of the hidden screening process.

Another easy way to “screen without screening” is to be up front and transparent from the beginning about the requirements of the formal application process. If tenants know ahead of time, based on the detail in your listing, that a background check or employment verification is required, and they also know that said checks might render them ineligible for renting, they will likely refrain from submitting an application altogether. This pre-screening technique is super effective in saving you time that would be much better spent on deliberating between more clearly qualified candidates.

Social Media Screening

As a landlord, checking someone’s presence on social media as a means for evaluating their worthiness as a tenant comes with its fair share of pitfalls. It’s a slippery slope that can prove effective, but is only advised if you are committed to putting standards and practices in place to protect yourself and your business.

In other words, put this part of the screening process in writing and in detail. If you check the Instagram account of one candidate, you must do the same for all. And record it. This will come very much in handy in you ever find yourself in hot water over a Fair Housing dispute.

Additionally, it’s important to note that everything on social media should be taken with a grain of salt. Many people project a life on the internet that is but a version of their reality. While it’s tempting to judge a book by its digital cover, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, and something seemingly offensive could bear a longer-winded explanation than what you see.


Whether it’s being meticulous in your report reviews or setting up passive processes that do the work for you, every step is important to ensure you are getting the highest quality candidates. As a landlord, you already have all the tools you need for your critical DIY project - formulating a thorough and effective screening process. Put in a little elbow grease and take the time up front to build the structure and before you know it, you’ll be looking at a job well done.

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