While there’s tremendous success to be had in the world of investment properties, the unsightly truth is that one bad tenant can cause a monumental setback.
It’s hard enough to keep up with wear and tear on your investment property without having to deal with disgruntled residents causing willful and severe destruction to a home. From “Sharpie parties” — where tenants invite friends over to vandalize the home with markers — to “indoor swimming pools,” where renters flood the premises and take a dip, there’s no shortage to the devastation that tenants can create.
Of course it’s not always so dramatic, but the problem of trouble tenants is quite widespread. In a poll conducted by Vancouver-based newspaper The Province, 71 percent of landlords say that they’ve had problems evicting a renter despite justifiable grounds. Late rent payments, broken appliances, and disputes over damage deposits are some of the most common issues that landlords face. The costs involved with repairing damage left by a less-than-upstanding renter, not to mention the time and money that it takes to pursue an eviction, can be enough to strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned property owner.
The good news is that an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. While you can’t always foresee issues with renters, there are steps that you can take to drastically reduce the chances of problem tenants gaining access to your rental in the first place.
Having an airtight tenant screening process is one of the best ways that you can protect yourself and your properties from potential devastation. Let’s look at a few tasks that can help you build a metaphoric hedge around your property that helps prevent unsavory tenants from getting in.
1. Require a Tenant Application
The right questions can help you to sift through unqualified tenants at the start. Draft an application form and have it ready for every prospective tenant. Ask each adult to provide basic information, such as name, date of birth, contact information, emergency contacts, and request similar information about any children who live with them.
In addition to asking the date they hope to move in, ask these questions:
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you smoke?
- Have you ever been evicted?
- Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
Be sure to request references, employment information, and a way to contact their previous landlord. Consider asking an attorney look over your form, to ensure both that you’ve covered your bases and that you haven’t asked any questions that could be considered discriminatory or cause legal issues.
2. Start Interviewing
The interview is vital. This is your chance to screen prospective tenants and find out whether or not they’re an ideal match for your property. Good questions to ask include:
- Is your income the same every month, or does it vary?
- Why are you moving?
- Describe your perfect rental space.
- What’s your favorite or least favorite thing about the place you’re living in now?
The interview should give you a good idea about whether or not the prospective tenant will be able to afford the rent and abide by the terms of your rental. This About.Money article, “Ten Questions for Prospective Tenants,” provides a fairly comprehensive list well worth considering for the tenant interview process.
3. Conduct Diligent Research
Always follow through with a check of potential tenants’ references, credit, and possible criminal background. Verify important information that the tenant provides, particularly current employment and previous rental history.
When contacting references, ask how long each person has known the prospective tenant and for their opinion on the reliability and character of the tenant. It’s especially important to get in touch with previous landlords, who may be more likely to paint an accurate picture for you. Current landlords might be desperate for a problem tenant to leave and may gloss over the truth in an effort to get the tenant to move faster.
4. Watch for Warning Signs
Look out for red flags that can alert you to a potential problem tenant. If the applicant makes you feel nervous or seems desperate to move in as quickly as possible, that could be a warning sign.
And watch out for candidates who question every aspect of your rental application process, as this may be an indicator of someone who will be unwilling to abide by your rules when renting. Legitimate candidates understand that it’s important for you to conduct credit and background checks, and most will appreciate the care you take in selecting tenants.
Be sure to compare the application and your notes from the interview to what comes up on the background check. Be extremely wary of any discrepancies.
5. Keep It Legal
Of course, as important as it is to have a solid tenant screening process, it’s also important to ensure that your process complies with the law. While you should watch out for warning signs, never screen tenants based on feelings alone. Be careful to use the same qualifying procedure for all applicants, and treat all candidates equally to prevent accusations of discrimination.
You should also use the same process each time you deny someone, regardless of the reason for denial. A simple e-mail highlighting the reason is sufficient. Doing this properly and in writing can help to prevent any accusations of discrimination. As another legal side note: Be sure to check local laws before collecting application fees or a deposit, as this practice may not be legal in all areas.
6. Get It in Writing
Finally, once you have found a tenant for your property, it’s important to make sure you have a rental agreement in place. This document should contain clear guidelines and will help ensure that you and the tenant are both on the same page, preventing problems from arising later on due to miscommunication. The agreement should include the names of all the residents, occupancy limits, and rental terms, including late fees, acceptable payment methods, and charges if a rent check fails to clear.
While many landlords are hesitant to implement a tenant screening procedure because it’s time-consuming, in the end a solid screening procedure can save time and prevent a world of hassle. You’ll be able to weed out problem renters and save yourself from costly evictions and extensive repairs down the road. Finding a tenant that’s a great match for your property is more than worth the time and effort it takes. You’ll thank yourself later, and your wallet will too.