An effective tenant screening process is fair, consistent, and rigorous. It ensures that the person you are placing in your Las Vegas rental property is responsible and can be relied upon to pay rent on time, take care of your property, and respect the terms set forth in the lease agreement.
Tenant screening needs to be efficient. You don’t want to leave an applicant waiting weeks to hear from you. But, you don’t want to cut corners. Neglecting to check a few important pieces of information can lead to a disastrous rental experience.
It’s easy to make a mistake when screening tenants. We’ve come across landlords who barely glance at a credit report, not putting much effort into investigating an applicant’s background and whether they’re qualified to rent a home. We’ve also seen landlords who are entirely too strict; looking for perfect credit scores and a large savings account.
There are also fair housing mistakes that can easily be made. You need to screen every tenant exactly the same. To protect yourself, you’ll need a written and documented process so you can demonstrate how you decide who gets approved and who gets denied.
If you’re looking for best practices for tenant screening, we have them. Our team has been screening tenants for more than 20 years, and we have been constantly improving our process to the point that we are excellent at identifying tenants who will succeed and become great renters.
Here’s what you need to do.
Establish and Document Qualifying Rental Criteria
You need to establish written qualifications for your tenants. This will keep you organized and consistent, and it will also tell any interested applicants exactly what you’re looking for when you screen. Prospective tenants will know exactly what kinds of standards they need to meet before submitting an application and moving into your property. Provide the criteria, in writing, before you agree to show the property.
This is an excellent way to set expectations.
Tenants who are rejected often take it personally. When you can provide clear documentation that shows what is acceptable and what isn’t, they’ll know even before they apply if they have a good chance of getting approved. This will save both of you time. It will save them the cost of an application fee.
This also protects you against risk and liability. Keep your criteria strict but reasonable. Keep fair housing requirements in mind, and don’t let your criteria say anything about gender, race, family status, or disabilities.
You can set income standards, credit standards, and list other requirements for tenants to evaluate before they spend their time and resources applying. Most tenants expect that they will have to meet reasonable requirements before they can be offered a lease agreement.
Make Your Rental Application Work for You
Every adult who is 18 years of age or older should fill out an application completely. Don’t accept any applications that have missing sections, questions that are avoided, or lack the supporting documentation that’s required.
Your application needs to request the same information from every applicant. Look for an application that’s provided by a Las Vegas property manager or a professional association. Simply downloading any template off the internet could leave you at risk. Your application to rent a home must be detailed and it absolutely must give you permission to conduct background, credit, and reference checks.
Here are some of the basics that your application must cover:
- Contact Information, including current address, phone number, and email address
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Current Employer
- Rental History
- Past Evictions
- Prior Criminal Convictions
Ask for a copy of a driver’s license, passport, or other state-issued identification. Collect an emergency contact name and number so you have that on file.
What to Look for When Screening Las Vegas Tenants
Now that you have your process in place, you need to know what you’re looking at when you begin collecting the data that tells you whether a tenant is qualified. Here’s what we suggest you focus on and how to identify red flags that may require closer inspection.
Review Credit Reports and Financial History
A credit report is usually the first thing that landlords will pull when they have a tenant interested in their home. This is a good starting point. It tells you what kind of priority the tenant puts on paying debt and managing bills. Credit reports provide a general financial picture of the person who wants to rent your home. Always check the credit yourself. Sometimes, an applicant will show up with a printout of their own credit report. You want information that comes directly from the credit reporting agencies.
Perfect credit is going to be hard to find, and really – you don’t need that. The credit score isn’t as important as the patterns you find in the tenant’s behavior. You want someone who meets their financial obligations on time.
You should have some standards for what kind of credit you’ll accept and how much debt you’ll be willing to work with. More important than a tenant’s credit card debt is how they’ve treated their housing-related bills. Medical debt and student loan debt are not necessarily indications that the tenant won’t pay rent. But if there are utility accounts in collections or a history of foreclosures, you might want to deny the tenant.
Check the National Eviction Database
You want to know about any past evictions. You likely won’t have them show up in the credit report, so you need to check court records. Don’t limit yourself to Las Vegas. Tenants have likely lived in other cities and states; you want to do a nationwide eviction check.
Past evictions are problematic, especially if they’re recent or if there’s been more than one. When tenants consistently have trouble keeping up with rent, you’re taking a big risk in renting to them. This is different from someone who may have an eviction from decades ago, and has had a successful few years of establishing a positive rental history. Decide how you’ll handle evictions and make sure you include your standards in your qualifying criteria. Many property managers and landlords have a zero-tolerance policy. Others are willing to consider tenants with older and non-recurring evictions on their record.
Check the credit and court records for any bankruptcies or judgments against the applicant. Situations where money is still owed to a former landlord or apartment complex are upsetting because if the tenant didn’t pay those landlords, you might find yourself trying to collect money from them as well.
Verify Income and Employment
Ultimately, the most important quality in a tenant is that they’re able to pay rent. You want them to pay it on time. Every month. When you’re screening, you have to know they have enough money to meet that obligation.
It usually comes down to income, unless your tenant is independently wealthy and has the bank records to prove it.
Las Vegas property management standards say that a good tenant will earn at least three times the amount of rent. Your application should ask for the monthly or annual income of each tenant moving into the property. Once you have that information, we recommend you verify it.
There are a few ways to do an income verification. You can contact an applicant’s employer. You can also ask for pay stubs from the tenant. If they’re not working yet but they’re moving to Las Vegas for a job, an employment contract can do the job as long as it includes a start date and a salary.
Measure what’s earned against the amount of rent you’re collecting.
This income requirement should cover all of the tenants who are moving into the property. So, adult partners who earn their own salaries can combine that income to meet your requirements. If there are roommates, combine all the earned income when you’re doing the math.
Check Rental References
Rental history is important because landlords can tell you what kind of experience they had with the tenants you’re considering. Collect contact information for current and former landlords. Call or email them, asking if rent was paid on time, whether there was any property damage, and if they’d be willing to rent to your prospective tenant again.
These are some of the most important elements of a tenant screening process. You can find online screening services to help you if you don’t have the resources to conduct a thorough tenant screening yourself. Or, you can work with a Las Vegas property management company like ours.
Please contact us at New West Property Management. We’re passionate about the services and value we provide to the owners and investors who trust us with their properties. Our team expertly manages residential rental homes in Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, including Henderson and North Las Vegas.