How to vet prospective tenants for your rental property
Do you have a rental property you’re trying to list? Maybe an empty basement you've outfitted into the perfect bachelor pad? We’ve put together a useful guide that will help you narrow down prospective tenants. Your investigation will require some online research and patience to find the perfect fit.
It is your responsibility to properly vet the applicants to make sure you’re not letting someone into your space that will cause problems down the road.
Posting the listing
Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by hiring a reputable real estate agent to connect you to a tenant. Real estate agents for rentals come with booking fees and may even take your first month’s rent as payment.
If you are using websites like kijiji, Craigslist or even Facebook to promote your rental unit, chances are you will get lots of interest, very fast, from a wide spectrum of people. Put the price (per month) in the title of the listing with the neighbourhood and include as many pictures as you can. Spell out what’s included or what's not: hydro, internet, cable, parking, etc.
Make sure the place looks clean and organized so you attract clean and organized renters. As long as your rental is a reasonable, competitive price for the space and neighbourhood, all you have to do is wait.
Pooling the applicants
If this is your first time, it may be overwhelming. People will decide to word-vomit their whole life-story in 400 words. Take your time in responding. Ideally, you’re beginning the process at the beginning of the rental month to fill the unit by the end.
If you have a day where you can sit down with a piece of paper, take down contact information and full names, you will be able to start the vetting process. If one of your respondents doesn’t leave their full name in the email, or their email is something like ‘youngstud1999 [at] yahoo’ or ‘princessnaughty [at] gmail’ … you have the right to eliminate them from the running.
Based on what they claimed in their first response to your ad, you can divide your notes into a “definitely want to callback” and “potential callback” and begin making calls from the top down.
This is the start of your investigation: establishing contact with the prospective tenant. Talking to your applicant will allow you to disqualify or prequalify them before even showing the unit.
At this early point in your communications, you should be asking them direct questions, and analysing their responses. You have every right to jot notes down or ask them to clarify what they’re saying.
If anyone fails to answer your questions to your satisfaction you can end the conversation (politely), say “We’ll be in touch,” make a note to follow up on your list, and let them know that you’ve decided to go in another direction.
Below are some good questions to ask before inviting a prospective tenant to a viewing, via Canadian Real Estate:
- When would you like to move in, and how long do you plan to stay?
- Why are you moving, and have you given notice to your current landlord?
- Where do you work? How is it?
- How is your credit report?
- Do you have pets, and do you need parking?
- Will you have anyone staying with you?
You will probably be asked a few questions in return, which is a great start for conversation and hopefully a good landlord-tenant relationship. It’s important to find out about their previous living situations and previous landlord. It will be a judgement to their character depending on how their last tenancy ended. If the tenant has had any legal issues with the last landlord—maybe they’re suing each other—take that as a tenant to avoid.
So hopefully you’ve got a few, maybe a dozen people who have passed the initial screening. Next, you can invite them for a viewing. As you let these people into the unit, it is a good idea to have someone like a friend around if you’re doing this alone. Remember, you’re letting a stranger into your private space. The prospective tenant may also bring a friend for the same reasons.
Size them up
As the viewing goes on you should be, for lack of a better word, judging them. Are they polite? Have they dressed to impress? Did they drive here? These are superficial judgements, yes, but they can give you an idea of where the tenant is in life.
A friendly reminder: discrimination is illegal in the tenancy process. You cannot discriminate based on race, ethnicity, ability, education, gender or sexuality. Apart from those tenets, you are able to make decisions based on some of your preferences.
Maybe you’d like a student because they tend to have a higher turnover. Maybe you’d prefer a woman because men with beards can clog sinks when they shave (or so I’ve heard). Maybe you just want someone with a stable job and quiet demeanour. These characteristics are up to you, but you should be looking for some warning signs as well.
If your applicant is:
- Way too eager and excited to move in. This points to some desperation. If they’re nagging the process forward at a speed you’re uncomfortable with, it should lead you to suspicion. They could be distracting you from following the proper vetting process, or they could really be on the hook somewhere in their life.
- Saying everything you want to hear. You don’t need someone who can build you a patio deck, you need someone that can pay their rent on time, every time.
Make sure they’re right for your lifestyle and tenancy needs.
You want someone who will respect your property that you have worked hard to maintain. It’s all smiles and waves until your tenant hasn’t paid rent in three months and your new stove is broken.
If the viewings have gone well, then you should be on your way to narrowing down the renters. Now it’s your responsibility to get into the nitty gritty; you need to scrutinize the legitimacy of their identity.
The rental application is mandatory
You should have a rental application ready for the tenant to fill out after the viewing if you’re satisfied with them. This is step one in the vetting process. The information they provide on the form will allow you to verify their details. You can find sample application forms with a simple Google search for ‘Sample Rental Application Forms [Your Province]’, then print a few copies or draw one up yourself for duplication.
Get online and get searching
Once they have returned the form to you, scan it to see if there are any glaring imperfections. Next, Google their full name and city to verify their identity. If you can’t really find anything tied to the face you met, a corroborating photo or social media profile, you have a right to wonder why, especially if they are between the ages of 20 and 50.
Next, actually call all their listed references; this includes personal, work, and former landlord. Ask the landlord if the tenant has actually lived there as long as they’ve claimed on the application. If their landlord reference is their parent and you’re actually considering the renter, you need to ask the parents even more questions when you get a hold of them.
Verify that the renter’s workplace exists by searching online. Check to see if the phone numbers match those listed on their official website. Call the workplace and ask for the prospective renter by name or ask for the supervisor they have listed. If you can’t find the workplace online, can’t talk to the renter or their supervisor, ABORT!
If your renter has consented to a credit check, or even provided you a printout of one, do it yourself. PhotoShop can do anything.
Hopefully, you have found the perfect tenant! Congrats. You can find legitimate leases from your provincial tenant boards by searching online. Print a few off, and tell your pick that you have a lease ready for them to sign. You need to get first and last month’s rent payment before you give them the keys to the unit.
You also need to add any additional terms on the lease that are important to you, and make sure they sign and initial each page to form the legally binding agreement. If you don’t put something in writing on the lease (i.e. no smoking indoors) then your tenant has a right to do it.
You can even require them to have renters insurance to ensure there is coverage if damage or loss occurs within the unit.
Once everything is filled out, you should be on your way to a healthy landlord-tenant relationship!
That wasn’t so bad was it? It is quite a time-consuming process, especially if you’re new to the landlord role. You could be stuck with 100 applicants and quickly find yourself in over your head. Income properties are practical, and will allow you to pay off your mortgage a bit sooner, with a bit of extra cash to go towards other payments.
Hopefully this guide can help anyone going into 'landlording' blind by breaking down the steps to take during the vetting process. Remember that both tenants and landlords have rights under the Landlord and Tenant Act(s), and you should know the laws like the back of your hand. Knowledge is power!