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Have you ever searched online and read landlords’ accounts about their horrible tenants? Go ahead; we dare you! The stories are more than cringe-worthy and sometimes scary. If you’re a first-time, unexpected landlord or timid about the entire screening process, don’t worry; MilitaryByOwner has you covered—we’ll help you find the best tenants for your rental.
1) Start with Referrals
Successful tenant screening often starts with old-fashioned, friend-of-a-friend, or word-of-mouth references. Putting the word on the street, especially in high-demand neighborhoods, will likely snag a serious and probably military-related renter, especially if the house is listed on MilitaryByOwner. You can list your advertisement with plenty of high-quality pictures to show the best features of your home.
If you share the MilitaryByOwner ad on your neighborhood's Facebook page or the closest base's social media groups, the word will spread lightning fast. Your ad will probably reach renters moving into the area that send an ISO shout-out asking, “Does anyone know of a 3-bedroom rental coming up near Fort Hood?”
Military families love to help other military members, so the request will surely garner some leads. Plus, there’s a good chance the friend-of-a-friend connection made during the getting to know you phase will help you get to know the potential tenants.
2) Understand the Fair Housing Act
Military landlords should familiarize themselves with the federally mandated Fair Housing Act. As the tenant screening process begins, it's imperative to know potential renters have protection from discrimination when searching for a home.
The FHA is described in-depth in our article, What Homeowners and Landlords Should Understand About the Fair Housing Act, but a simple understanding is:
- “The FHA forbids housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
- Homeowners are legally bound to uphold the same terms and conditions for each applicant. Homeowners cannot attach different qualifiers to a protected class applicant, for example, requiring a deposit for one set of renters, but not another.”
It's unlikely as a homeowner you’d ever intend to discriminate against a protected class, but sometimes, what you perceive as friendly advice could land you in hot water. For example, an off-hand statement like, “Oh, our home isn’t great for kids; there aren’t many sidewalks or parks" could be interpreted as discrimination against the applicant’s familial status.
The tenant retains the option to have the statement investigated, and you could be subject to potential fines. For everyone’s protection, working knowledge of the FHA is a good idea. If you hire a property manager, they should be highly versed in the language of the law.
3) Ask Tenants to Complete a Rental Application
After you’ve found a few interested candidates, ask them to fill out a rental application to begin the screening process. Some landlords ask for a rental application fee to help offset background check costs. Let your candidates know if there’s a fee to apply, even if you do not choose them. The application should include these critical points if there are legal issues in the future. You’ll want proof that they’ve confirmed the information.
- Basic information: name, contact information, lease dates.
- References: previous landlords, employer, colleagues, or friends.
- Past rental information; dates, addresses, reasons for leaving.
- Pet information: name, breed, age, vet records.
- Financial and employment history: for background checks (more on this to come).
Check out What Landlords Look For in a Tenant to give you an idea of the info you need.
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4) Pay for a Screening Service
After a few candidates fill out the rental application, it’s time to bring in some investigative tools to ensure reasonable and responsible adults live in your property.
Take a look at TransUnion SmartMove’s description (you can sign up for free and then use pay-as-you-go rental screening services):
"TransUnion SmartMove is the convenient tenant screening service for people who don't manage hundreds of properties. Screening tenants used to be just for large professional property management companies. It's easy to understand why: pulling certain types of tenant background checks like tenant credit reports isn't possible for most individuals. This includes resident screening for many rental property owners, real estate agents, and even small property management companies. SmartMove tenant screening helps identify the best tenants. Accurate credit, criminal, and eviction reports. FREE sign up. Fast results. No hidden fees."
Can it be easier than SmartMove's one-and-done shop? Probably not. Military landlords are busy with TDY's, deployments, and long work hours, and forging through the necessary paperwork to screen clients isn’t likely on the fun things-to-do list.
If you’re choosing from a lot of good candidates, read 11 Signs You've Met an All-Star Tenant to help you pick the best one.
5) Screen the Tenants Yourself
If you’d like to do the investigative work yourself (or if this isn’t your first rental rodeo), you’ll need to screen your tenants through a combination of these:
- Credit check. Reports on general finances, late fees, non-payment, and credit score.
- Background check. Details include evictions, criminal history, and civil lawsuits.
- Income verification. Military members have easy access to their LES to prove their income, but you can also request three months of pay stubs from non-military members.
Here’s more info to help you screen tenants: How to Prepare for Your New Tenants and 7 Tips for Choosing the Best Tenant for Your Rental to set yourself up for success.
6) Check Social Media
If the applicant has added public information to their LinkedIn, Instagram, or other social media, they’re okay with you taking a look. You can compare their application information like employment and residence to what they posted online. You can also look for warning signs like hate speech or criminal behavior; just remember the standards set by fair housing laws.
7) Ask to Talk with Two Previous Landlords
You can speak with their current landlord for information about their payment history and home maintenance, but keep in mind that they might say anything to get the tenants to leave if they’re troublesome. This is why you need to contact the previous landlord—to make sure the renter’s reputation holds up.
Searching for the best tenants is a multi-pronged process. Word of mouth referrals, advertising, and a thorough screening process all help keep you and your property safe. Once your perfect tenant is identified, and all is right in your renting world, it’s time to take care of those renters and keep them happy with your house.
By Dawn M. Smith
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