How to Screen Tenants in 5 Easy Steps

Published on Jan 22, 2024

Tenant Placement

Screening tenants is an art; you let people live on your property, and knowing them formally is challenging. You have to be careful about staying within your limits but also get to know if their attitude and background are credible enough to be a ‘good tenant’ or not. This guide will help you learn how to screen tenants.

Screening tenant’s process is crucial in avoiding the pitfalls of problematic tenants who could lead to unpaid rent, property damage, violation of lease agreements, or even legal headaches.

We'll explore how to use tenant screening services efficiently and share insights on making the process seamless and effective. Whether you're new to property management or looking to refine your approach, these steps will equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions and maintain the integrity of your rental property.

Step 1: Understanding and Complying with Housing Laws

Before screening tenants, you must understand the law. Understanding and following fair housing laws is the law in real estate. Consider these laws in the game's fairness rulebook.

As a landlord, you're looking for the right tenant and protecting equal housing. These laws ensure no one is excluded or mistreated because of their identity. Ignoring these laws can get you in trouble. Knowing and following these laws shows you're a fair and responsible landlord.

Be aware of fair housing laws before reviewing applications. Respecting potential tenants' rights and improving the housing world is more than just protecting yourself.

The Fair Housing Act

Let's examine the Fair Housing Act, which is crucial to tenant screening. This is like a real estate referee who enforces the rules. No one should be excluded for who they are.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination. Everyone deserves a fair chance when renting, regardless of background. 

You can't choose who lives in your apartment building based on nationality, family status, or other protected classes.

Consider that applications don't show protected class content. You should care about their rental qualifications, not their personality. Being a good person is crucial. You must also follow the law and ensure your tenant screening is impartial.

State and Local Housing Regulations

Now, let's talk about local property management. The Fair Housing Act necessitates familiarity with national regulations. Understand your community's state and local housing laws.

Indeed, housing laws differ by state and even by city. These can range from the amount of a security deposit to eviction procedures. These rules shift as quickly as a chameleon on a dance floor. Staying current is not only a good idea; it is also required. The complexity of these laws state by state is exactly why landlords often choose to enlist the help of a company like Ziprent

Another piece of advice: if things get complicated, consult a lawyer. Real estate attorneys can assist you in following the law. A GPS aids in navigating a maze of rules.

Avoiding Litigation During Screening

When screening tenants, avoid legal pitfalls. You'll get in trouble if you break the law, but there's always a way out. 

To begin, keep the FCRA in mind at all times. Credit checks require this information. The FCRA advises businesses on how to handle tenants' credit information responsibly. A blunder here could land you in hot water. 

It is common practice not to use uniform tenant screening criteria. To avoid discrimination and favoritism, establish uniform criteria for all applicants. This method ensures justice while avoiding legal intervention.

It is also important not to judge people based on their unique characteristics. Discrimination in housing based on race, religion, or family composition is illegal and unethical under equal housing opportunity laws.

To maintain a litigation-free tenant selection process, consider the following steps:

  1. Thorough Understanding of Laws

  2. Consistent Screening Criteria

  3. Meticulous Record-Keeping

  4. Continuous Education

  5. Professional Legal Consultation

Step 2: Setting Clear Tenant Criteria

Setting clear tenant selection criteria is essential for tenant screening. This step lays the groundwork for locating the best tenant for your property. Setting the stage beforehand ensures that landlords and tenants are on the same page.

Predetermined criteria help to streamline, clarify, and objectively evaluate the process. You can evaluate applicants against these standards once you determine what you want in a tenant. Financial stability, rental history, and references may all be considered. The goal is to create a decision-making framework that is transparent and fair.

The effectiveness of a tenant screening report is dependent on well-defined screening criteria. These reports are useful depending on how well they meet your criteria. Knowing what to look for aids in data interpretation and decision-making.

Minimum Applicant Requirements

Setting baseline criteria for prospective tenants is necessary for streamlining tenant selection. These minimum requirements assist you in quickly identifying applicants who meet the basic rental requirements of your property.

Typical minimum requirements often include:

  • Credit Score: A specific credit score threshold can indicate financial responsibility.

  • Employment History: Consistent employment suggests a stable income, which is crucial for meeting monthly rent obligations.

  • Income Thresholds: A common standard is that a tenant's income should be at least three times the monthly rent.

  • Positive Rental History: Past rental references can provide insights into a tenant's behavior and reliability.

  • Proof of Income: Pay stubs or other documents that verify the applicant's ability to afford the rent.

Potential Red Flags

As a landlord, being vigilant about certain warning signs can save you from future headaches. Early detection of unsuitable candidates is key to maintaining a stable and profitable rental property. Here are some common red flags to watch out for:

  • Eviction History: Previous evictions can be a major warning sign. They often indicate issues with non-payment or lease violations.

  • Credit History: While a credit score gives a snapshot, the full credit history can reveal patterns. Frequent late payments or significant debt can be concerning.

  • Bankruptcies: While past bankruptcies don't automatically disqualify a candidate, they should prompt a closer look at their current financial stability.

  • Inconsistent Employment: Frequent job changes might affect a tenant's ability to pay rent consistently.


Pre-screening is an important step in selecting the right new tenant. It serves as a preliminary filter before thoroughly reviewing a tenant's application. This preliminary screening stage can save you time and streamline the selection process.

Using your rental ads as a pre-screening tool is one effective strategy. In the ad, clearly state your basic requirements (for example, no smoking, pet policies, and income requirements). This method helps to set expectations early on and may discourage applicants who do not meet your criteria from applying.

You can efficiently narrow the pool of candidates by incorporating pre-screening strategies, focusing your efforts on those most likely to be a good fit for your property.

Step 3: Application and Information Collection

The third step to finding the right tenant is gathering details. This crucial stage prepares for good decision-making. A good rental application helps you get a complete picture of the tenant and prepare for further screening.

Collect a variety of information in your application to understand the tenant. This includes basic contact information and more detailed data:

  • Tenant Credit: Information is abundant in tenant credit reports. Their financial responsibility and payment history are revealed. You'll need the tenant's SSN and consent to pull this report.

  • Employment and Income Verification: Helps prove the tenant can afford rent. Pay stubs, bank statements, and employer contact info can help.

  • Previous Rental History: Contact information for previous landlords can provide valuable references.

Comprehensive Rental Application

A detailed application form is essential in capturing all vital details of a prospective tenant. This form is your first real insight into who the applicant is, so it's crucial to get it right. Key components of a comprehensive rental application include:

  • Identity Verification: Full name, social security number, and a valid government-issued ID to confirm the applicant's identity.

  • Contact Information: Current phone number and email address for easy communication.

  • Rental History: Previous addresses, along with landlord contact details, to verify past tenancy experiences.

  • Employment and Income Details: Employer contact information and proof of income to assess financial stability.

Consent for Screening

Obtaining consent for background or credit checks is a legal requirement under the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act). This step is crucial before obtaining a tenant screening report or checking a tenant's credit.

To integrate this permission seamlessly into the application process, consider the following tips:

  1. Specify in the application that a background and credit check will be conducted during screening. This transparency sets early expectations.

  2. Include a consent form in the application or amendment. This form should state that the applicant authorizes credit and background checks.

  3. Summarize the screening process. Inform applicants that the tenant screening report may include criminal background and credit history.

  4. Confirm that the applicant comprehends their consent. This understanding is usually confirmed by signature or digital acknowledgment.

Step 4: Conducting Thorough Checks

Step 4 in the tenant screening process is where you delve deep into an applicant's past, which often serves as a reliable predictor of their future behaviors. Conducting thorough checks is essential to gain insights into a potential tenant’s financial health, personal history, and overall reliability.

Here's what to focus on:

  • Credit Score

  • Criminal History

  • Eviction History

Credit Report and Background Checks

The screening process relies on credit reports to determine a tenant's financial stability. TransUnion-facilitated credit checks reveal an applicant's credit history. This includes loans, credit cards, and financial commitment history. 

Credit reports show an individual's financial discipline over time, not just their score. Are bills paid regularly? Is debt their fault? A credit report can answer these crucial questions.

Equally important are credit and background checks. Criminal and eviction records are in these history reports. Background checks reveal an applicant's character and reliability, while credit reports show finances. Credit and background checks complete tenant profiles.

Income, Employment, and Rental History Checks

Reviewing an applicant's income, employment, and rental history is essential for tenant screening. These checks demonstrate their financial stability and reliability.

  • Income Verification: Pay stubs or bank statements can easily verify an applicant's income. This is essential to ensure rent affordability.

  • Employment History: A stable job history indicates steady income. Simple phone calls to current or former employers can verify applicant information.

  • Rental History: Speaking with previous landlords can offer invaluable insights. They can confirm the tenant's payment history, care for the property, and general conduct.

Criminal Record Check

Conducting a criminal record check is critical to the tenant screening process. This step is essential for the safety and security of your property and the community's well-being.

  • Criminal Background Check: Criminal background checks through reporting agencies confirm applicants' histories. This check may reveal past offenses that affect their tenant suitability.

  • Confirm Identity: It's important to ensure that the information the applicant provides matches the details in the criminal record. This involves verifying the applicant's identity thoroughly before proceeding with the check.

Step 5: Interacting with Potential Tenants & Making the Final Decision

The final tenant screening step humanizes property management. Beyond data and background checks, personal interactions with potential tenants can reveal their character and suitability. This step involves finding the best tenant for your property.

Direct conversations, such as interviews or property viewings, let you assess communication style, honesty, and demeanor. These interactions can reveal how a tenant will handle responsibilities and treat your property.

In this stage, trust your instincts but be objective. Balance check results with personal impressions for a well-rounded decision. Tenants are more than names on leases—they'll help maintain your property.

Prospective Tenant Interviews

Interviewing prospective tenants is a key step in choosing the right new tenant. It's an opportunity to confirm the information they've provided and to gauge their suitability through direct conversation. Here are some effective interview techniques and essential questions to consider:

  1. Open-ended questions encourage applicants to reveal more. Why are they moving? What do they want in a rental? Their lifestyle and expectations can be revealed.

  2. Consider hypothetical situations to see how they might react. How do they handle maintenance or neighbor disputes? Their answers demonstrate problem-solving and temperament.

  3. Check employment and rental history during the interview. Information accuracy is verified.

  4. Set lease, property, and maintenance rules. This establishes consensus early.


Reference checks from former landlords and employers are essential for tenant screening. These checks reveal the tenant's application and history, including behavior, payment history, and property care. Verification of references can be done through public records or online property information. 

Employment history is also crucial, as it confirms income stability. Employers can be contacted to assess the tenant's tenure, reliability, and behavior, gauging their financial stability and responsibility.

Accepting or Rejecting Applicants

The final stage of tenant screening involves deciding whether to accept or reject applicants based on thoroughly evaluating all information. After finding the right tenant, discuss the lease, security deposit, and rent terms, ensuring clarity and repeating property rules. 

If rejected, it should be respectfully and openly explained, explaining the decision politely and concisely. It may be legally required, especially based on a credit report or background check.

What is the Best Way to Screen Rental Applications?

As a landlord or property manager, you know that screening rental applications can be daunting. It's often costly and time-consuming, especially when done the traditional way. But what if there was a more efficient solution? Enter Ziprent’s Instant Application Process.

Ziprent’s Instant Application Process revolutionizes the way you handle tenant screening. Here's a brief overview of how it works:

  1. Streamlined Process: Applicants submit their information through Ziprent’s platform. This includes all the standard details required for a thorough screening.

  2. Instant Analysis: Ziprent quickly analyzes the application, utilizing advanced algorithms and comprehensive databases.

  3. Rapid Results: You receive a detailed report on the applicant, including credit scores, background checks, and rental history.

The benefits of using Ziprent for tenant screening are significant:

  • Efficiency: The instant processing saves you time, allowing you to make quicker decisions on tenancy.

  • Cost-Effective: Ziprent’s pricing structure is designed to be affordable, reducing the financial burden of screening. This can also translate to lower or even waived application fees for tenants.

  • Accuracy: With access to extensive databases and sophisticated analysis tools, Ziprent provides accurate and reliable screening results.

Ready to Optimize Your Tenant Screening? Let’s Get Started!

We covered everything from how to screen tenant applications to what a tenant screening report is and how to become a landlord. Everything you need to know to properly screen tenants has been covered, from familiarizing yourself with relevant housing laws to conducting comprehensive checks and talking to prospective tenants.

You have to be prepared for tenant vetting because it is essential in property management and real estate, and this guide has all the steps you need to be an expert in screening tenants. But if you are still not ready, Ziprent steps in. 

Now, Ziprent streamlines the entire tenant screening process for you. Using cutting-edge technology and meticulous analysis, Ziprent makes the tenant screening process easy and fast with accurate results. 

Tenant screening can be a hassle, but with our help, you can save time and money while still finding a reliable tenant for your rental property.

Ziprent's tenant screening services can improve your approach. Whether you're a seasoned property manager or just starting in the industry, the better.

If you still have questions, explore Ziprent’s services today and see how they can transform your property management experience.

Email at: [email protected] 

Call at: 415.688.6660

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