Good morning from Sterling Properties Real Estate Services! We hope everyone had a relaxing long weekend celebrating Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr.! I was recently discussing some of the difficulties in tenant screening with a prospective client when it dawned on me that this is an issue I have heard about from landlords many times over the years as an attorney. Usually when a landlord comes to see me it is because they have a tenant who is either violating the rules stated in the Rules and Regulations / Lease Agreement for their rental property or a tenant has stopped paying rent. These are both headaches for landlords and navigating the complexities of RCW 59.18 / 59.20 or ORS 90 can give cause for a landlord to reach out to their attorney or property manager to discuss what steps to take to fix the problem. The best advice I can give to a landlord is to thoroughly screen any tenant who takes occupancy of their rental property. Usually by the time they contact me it’s too late and only legal action will be appropriate.
You need to make sure during tenant screening that if an application is denied it is done so for a proper reason. No landlord can discriminate or deny an application based on someone being a member of a protected class – race, sex, education, disability, etc. Some things that every landlord should know / review about a prospective tenant are as follows:
1. Criminal Background Check – before leasing space to anyone it is always prudent to do both a local and federal background check to see what if any criminal history a prospective tenant may have. Some crimes to watch out for would be any felony conviction, sex offenses, and any crime involving moral turpitude. Moral turpitude is lawyer talk for crimes of dishonesty – such as theft or burglary. Also, look for assault convictions or crimes of domestic violence. Although not necessarily a disqualifier a criminal conviction can give you some insight into the behaviors of a prospective tenant that has required attention of law enforcement!
2. Rental History – this seems like a no brainer. Has the tenant been a good resident wherever they are coming to you from? Check references and follow up with prior landlords to make sure you are not inheriting a difficult tenant.
3. Revolving Income – check to see if your prospective tenant is employed or if they have some sort of revolving income. This will prevent you from having to evict a tenant when the cannot make their second months rent! As a general rule you want your tenant to be making at least 2.5 to 3 times the rental amount in monthly income. Rent should never account for more than thirty-five percent of a person’s / household net take-home income. If you check this up front you will be able to rest assured that your tenant will have sufficient funds available to pay for their housing.
4. Credit Check – this will give you a good idea of whether the prospective tenant has good credit or are trustworthy to pay their financial obligations.
Remember this is not an exhaustive list of things to look out for – just some pointers for those who are new to tenant screening or are considering renting a home or property to someone they don’t know anything about. We suggest at a minimum taking these items into consideration when leasing a space to a prospective tenant.
Let me know if you have any questions regarding the tenant screening process and I’d be happy to discuss them with you! Or if you own a rental property and are doing your best to get it leased and are ready to no longer have the headache of managing your own property – give us a call!