Question About Tenant Screening

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Hi all! I'm a new landlord and I'm looking for some advice from experienced landlords and property owners. I'm also wondering if any of you can recommend a good site for tenant screening. I'd like to run credit reports, background checks, etc. and I'm looking for a service that's reliable yet cost effective. Any recommendations?

Thank you!

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I personally wouldn't apply to a place with a $100 fee. Unless that's what everybody else charges its way too high.

CaptainCool (Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:44a) |

Also that is going to be $100 per person. $30 per person is $60-$90 for 2-3 adults. $100 per,u do the math.

rufflesinc (Mar. 13, 2014 @ 10:56a) |

I charge a nominally lower rent (around ~40/month less I think) to keep it a bit on the lower end of the average for a c... (more)

saradon (Mar. 13, 2014 @ 6:34p) |

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I use MySmartMove.com

Tenant pays money directly to them so I never have to touch any application money..

Credit and background check is $30, paid by tenant.

Welcome to the forum! I'm a landlord for a larger apartment complex and would be happy to answer whatever questions I can. As for tenant screening I use http://www.myrental.com. There are a few different packages, but you can run checks on everything from credit reports to criminal checks, ect. The price is fair, the information is reliable, and they've saved me a lot of time.

Bizatch said:   I use MySmartMove.com

Tenant pays money directly to them so I never have to touch any application money..

Credit and background check is $30, paid by tenant.

  This this this!!! It is operated by transunion so that is which report it is. You can also advertise that you don't need their SSN .

I have used MySmartMove.com as well.

Good experiences, it puts the onus on the renters, those that are not serious don't follow through and don't waste your time.

I like it.

I've used mysmartmove too. Recommended.

Does anyone have any commentary on the experian equivalent of mysmartmove?

It looks like it provides credit checks only for $15, while mysmartmove does a criminal background check as well.

i have used http://www.e-renter.com/ and found them to be good

I read that most of criminal background checks are hit or miss since most of the counties do not have records online. And even if they do, some charge for access making it impossible to get nationwide records in single place. A 'clean' check from any agency doesn't mean anything.

If you're in MN you can check all criminal records and court proceedings for free online. Even shows minor stuff like traffic fines if you want

Edit: forgot to provide the link

http://pa.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx

Don't underestimate the option of not screening.

I do not screen my tenants. If the tenant turns out to be good, I pay zero and have zero up-front effort. And to top it off I show respect for their privacy, and they respect me in return.

Occasionally I get some deadbeats, and I have to sue. In those cases, filing is cheap in my area (~$30-90), and collection is easy if I know where they work or bank. It's a simply one-page form that you file.. no lawyer needed. Deadbeats tend to be too lazy to switch jobs to dodge a garnishment, so it's really not that bad. I believe my overall effort is less than those who screen to dig up dirt on everyone in advance. I always get paid in the end.

Also keep in mind that a screening could cause false positives. E.g. you steer clear of a potentially good tenant simply because they got a drug conviction in their younger years, and you can't resist the urge to deny them even though their partying days are behind them. Also realize that there will be false negatives, where you are the first person to report them screwing up, in which case you paid for the screening on top of the recovery cost.

If you take the no-screen approach, it's a good idea to tailor where you advertise, like the bulletin board in the halls of a graduate school. I guess it depends on your area. If you're in a ghetto/slum-like area, maybe screening is a must.

cageRatlr said:   Don't underestimate the option of not screening.

I do not screen my tenants. If the tenant turns out to be good, I pay zero and have zero up-front effort. And to top it off I show respect for their privacy, and they respect me in return.

Occasionally I get some deadbeats, and I have to sue. In those cases, filing is cheap in my area (~$30-90), and collection is easy if I know where they work or bank. It's a simply one-page form that you file.. no lawyer needed. Deadbeats tend to be too lazy to switch jobs to dodge a garnishment, so it's really not that bad. I believe my overall effort is less than those who screen to dig up dirt on everyone in advance. I always get paid in the end.

Also keep in mind that a screening could cause false positives. E.g. you steer clear of a potentially good tenant simply because they got a drug conviction in their younger years, and you can't resist the urge to deny them even though their partying days are behind them. Also realize that there will be false negatives, where you are the first person to report them screwing up, in which case you paid for the screening on top of the recovery cost.

If you take the no-screen approach, it's a good idea to tailor where you advertise, like the bulletin board in the halls of a graduate school. I guess it depends on your area. If you're in a ghetto/slum-like area, maybe screening is a must.

  
I screen all my applicants.  It also good to meet potential  renters in person - is a family?  Young kids who will f up your place?  Do they work at a reputable company and have their professional profile at risk?

I used to overscreen after a few bad apple cases... verified previous two employers, verified last two landlords, examine all bank statements, paycheck stubs in detail, use google maps to confirm that they actually live where they lived by checking for cars that match what they listed on the street/driveway. I was really paranoid because it sucks to file an unlawful detainer in CA. Sometimes they use fake SSNs and switch SSN numbers on the apps because they think "no credit history" is better than "bad credit history". I used to see what kind of cars and the type of debt they have to evaluate whether they would prioritize paying the rent. I always do an in person interview with the family. Heck, if I could hook them up for a polygraph, I would. All in all, it was a really exhaustive effort. I did find that the worst tenants typically come from Craigslist and only slightly better ones come from other agents. This is one of those chores that I really hate in property management. I don't always want to be a hard ass but I know if you let them slide just ONCE, there's potential for repeated abuse to no end. All I can really say is Good Luck.

cageRatlr said:   Don't underestimate the option of not screening.

I do not screen my tenants. If the tenant turns out to be good, I pay zero and have zero up-front effort. And to top it off I show respect for their privacy, and they respect me in return.

Occasionally I get some deadbeats, and I have to sue. In those cases, filing is cheap in my area (~$30-90), and collection is easy if I know where they work or bank. It's a simply one-page form that you file.. no lawyer needed. Deadbeats tend to be too lazy to switch jobs to dodge a garnishment, so it's really not that bad. I believe my overall effort is less than those who screen to dig up dirt on everyone in advance. I always get paid in the end.

Also keep in mind that a screening could cause false positives. E.g. you steer clear of a potentially good tenant simply because they got a drug conviction in their younger years, and you can't resist the urge to deny them even though their partying days are behind them. Also realize that there will be false negatives, where you are the first person to report them screwing up, in which case you paid for the screening on top of the recovery cost.

If you take the no-screen approach, it's a good idea to tailor where you advertise, like the bulletin board in the halls of a graduate school. I guess it depends on your area. If you're in a ghetto/slum-like area, maybe screening is a must.

Do you max your security deposit?

rufflesinc said:   
cageRatlr said:   Don't underestimate the option of not screening.
.................
If you take the no-screen approach, it's a good idea to tailor where you advertise, like the bulletin board in the halls of a graduate school. I guess it depends on your area. If you're in a ghetto/slum-like area, maybe screening is a must.

Do you max your security deposit?

  
I agree with max security deposit.  That's one of the easiest screening tools there is.  (If they pay via check make sure it is good).
You can't speak enough about requiring first months rent and security deposit in advance.

I think the most important aspect of tenant screening is the face to face part. When you meet them, see what car they are driving. Don't judge by the age of the car, but is the registration up to date? Is the car clean and looks well maintained? This is the person you will expect to maintain your property.

When you talk to them. Ask about their job, ask how long they've worked there. Look for signs of instability. Does this person bounce from job to job? Look for someone with a "career" not a "job".

Always get a copy of the driver license and your deposit in advance. If they pay the deposit with a money order or cashiers check, then be very very careful. People who have a history of financial problem get blackmarked by the bank and usually have to resort to using money orders.

Kids absolutely destroy property but families tend to stay in one place longer. Balance the cost of some stucco and touch up paint with having the property vacant. Singles persons and groups of people are okay. I'd say that no one category is more likely than any other category to cause problems. If renting to a group, insist that everyone sign on one lease agreement, and that they are in charge of paying rent - be clear that if someone doesn't pay the rent, it becomes the responsibility of the other people on the lease and that you can go after anyone of them. It happens occasionally that one person in the group has a fallout with the other or some kind of emergency, and the others renters will tell you it is the landlord's problem.

That just sounds like jabberwocky to me 😜

Legal foreigner, preferably somebody who sends money to his or her family still living overseas.
 

TrueKnight said:   W used to overscreen after a few bad apple cases...

AND NOW?
 

StartByServingOthers said:   
rufflesinc said:   
cageRatlr said:   Don't underestimate the option of not screening.
.................
If you take the no-screen approach, it's a good idea to tailor where you advertise, like the bulletin board in the halls of a graduate school. I guess it depends on your area. If you're in a ghetto/slum-like area, maybe screening is a must.

Do you max your security deposit?

  
I agree with max security deposit.  That's one of the easiest screening tools there is.  (If they pay via check make sure it is good).
You can't speak enough about requiring first months rent and security deposit in advance.

  I require first month and security deposit to be money order or cashiers check. I always require max SD my state allows, 1.5 months rent. Like you said, don't want to rent to people who have trouble coming up with 2.5 months rent.

Pro tip from a guy who was a great client of mine and owned more than 60 rental properties. He made millions and never ran a credit check.

Interview them as you might imagine doing, then if they seem okay, walk them to their car. If the car is neat, tidy, and clean inside, then they know how to take care of their things and can take care of yours. If it's a dented mess, full of melted crayons and cigarette butts, then that's what the house will look like if you rent it to them.

Ingenious.

FatWalletLurker said:   Pro tip from a guy who was a great client of mine and owned more than 60 rental properties. He made millions and never ran a credit check.

Interview them as you might imagine doing, then if they seem okay, walk them to their car. If the car is neat, tidy, and clean inside, then they know how to take care of their things and can take care of yours. If it's a dented mess, full of melted crayons and cigarette butts, then that's what the house will look like if you rent it to them.

Ingenious.

My property manager manages about 30 units including mine.  She has never run a credit check on anyone in 17 years of doing this.  She checks civil actions including judgements and just goes by her hunches and the upkeep of their vehicles.  She is very, very successful in keeping us supplied in very good tenants.  I am not sure this approach is for everyone but it works for us.

FatWalletLurker said:   If the car is neat, tidy, and clean inside, then they know how to take care of their things and can take care of yours. If it's a dented mess, full of melted crayons and cigarette butts, then that's what the house will look like if you rent it to them.

 

  I am just about to break double digits in my number of properties, so I don't have quite the battle scars, but there's a huge difference between making a mess and causing damages. I have great tenants that leave their house as pigstys but with no actual damage and are proactive about alerting me to anything that needs to be repairs (have perfect credit and autopay a week early). I've also had one tenant that kept the house very clean and neat. But they never paid the water bill and stiffed me on the last month's rent.

tl;dr MESSY != DAMAGED

I've found that the "credit" part of credit reports is not overly useful. I've found the part that lists their known previous addresses to be a great way to track down previous LLs and a bigger picture of their rental history. The judgements part is also good as I'm not as versed in finding them otherwise.

I'm of two mindsets on this...

1) I used to work for an investigative firm that did background checks for servers at BlackEyed Pea, all the way up to people who wanted to -own- a car (Big 3) dealership. Criminal checks are only as good as where they admit to living (county) or what their credit report or SS Trace shows. If someone worked as a bus boy in Swampwater, LA, and stole cars in his spare time, unless there was an admission he spent time/used credit in LA, you'll never see this. (An may never see it in a county has some awkward criminal check process (fax only, no calls, etc).

2) I was a stellar tenant at places where I wouldn't have stood out. Once, I had to admit that my only income was unemployment and I -had- to move from a corporate, 'classy' complex I could no longer afford to live in.. The apt manager at the new place was fine with that and we ended up a great relation, and her, a great tenant.

FatWalletLurker said:   Pro tip from a guy who was a great client of mine and owned more than 60 rental properties. He made millions and never ran a credit check.

Interview them as you might imagine doing, then if they seem okay, walk them to their car. If the car is neat, tidy, and clean inside, then they know how to take care of their things and can take care of yours. If it's a dented mess, full of melted crayons and cigarette butts, then that's what the house will look like if you rent it to them.

Ingenious.

  I guess you can do it that way... seems very logical but I have many days that my car looks like a total train wreck because I am a single mom off two. I am the best thing that ever happened to my land lord. He never has to shovel, I rarely complain, and as soon as spring hits I put out beautiful flowers. Never judge a book by it's cover. (at least sometimes )

I have five rental properties. I don't run credit checks anymore. I didn't find it a good indicator of their propensity to pay rent. I tell prospective renters that I will run a credit check and they usually tell me their stories of why their credit will or won't check out. I find the 'soft' qualities of a tenant much more important.

Considering prospective tenants would pay application fee, not doing any form of credit or rental history screening is just laziness or ineptness! Of course those who don't do checks also don't collect any form of application fee either. Probably started out doing checks and not collecting appropriate fee.

wonderwoman1978fl said:   
FatWalletLurker said:   Pro tip from a guy who was a great client of mine and owned more than 60 rental properties. He made millions and never ran a credit check.

Interview them as you might imagine doing, then if they seem okay, walk them to their car. If the car is neat, tidy, and clean inside, then they know how to take care of their things and can take care of yours. If it's a dented mess, full of melted crayons and cigarette butts, then that's what the house will look like if you rent it to them.

Ingenious.

  I guess you can do it that way... seems very logical but I have many days that my car looks like a total train wreck because I am a single mom off two. I am the best thing that ever happened to my land lord. He never has to shovel, I rarely complain, and as soon as spring hits I put out beautiful flowers. Never judge a book by it's cover. (at least sometimes )

You're WonderWoman: of course he's ecstatic you're a tenant.
Do you have any idea how happy his insurance company is that you're in that neighborhood? Tell the neighbors they're welcome that renters' insurance is surprisingly low for your street. And property values are decidedly higher in the vicinities of superheroines.

Speaking of which, #pics?  

P.S. of the van, lasso, crime fighting action shots 

We've found that just having an application fee for screening costs is a decent screening tool. We've had many lose interest at that point, and only 1 after that who was unacceptable (credit was poor, but more importantly they lied about what we'd find and were then changing stories). My wife does the further work that does take a bit of time, verifying employment and references.

We just leased one of our properties and I just had to laugh at one of the applicants. We have a hefty deposit + rent and required a background check and they still wanted to rent it. They gave us their information and where I live, we can search the courthouse records. I started searching and found out they had been evicted previously and could not manage to maintain a tag or license for their vehicles for some reason - they kept getting tickets for that. You would think they would mention the previous eviction, knowing that would come up in the background check, wouldn't you? Of course, when we called they had an excuse, but it was too late at that point.

I always like to check and see if they have a Facebook page too. Some of those photos can be so revealing

CaptainCool said:   If you're in MN you can check all criminal records and court proceedings for free online. Even shows minor stuff like traffic fines if you want

Edit: forgot to provide the link

http://pa.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx

  
CaptainCool

I am a landlord in MN and this would be very helpful to me. When I went to the link it requires that you enter a case number which would make it harder to look people up. Do you have a work around for this or am I looking in the wrong place?

Thank you.

fill66

fil66 said:   
CaptainCool said:   If you're in MN you can check all criminal records and court proceedings for free online. Even shows minor stuff like traffic fines if you want

Edit: forgot to provide the link

http://pa.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx

  
CaptainCool

I am a landlord in MN and this would be very helpful to me. When I went to the link it requires that you enter a case number which would make it harder to look people up. Do you have a work around for this or am I looking in the wrong place?

Thank you.

fill66

  
1. Make sure to keep the dropdown box at "all MNCIS Sites" to search all counties
2. Click on the type of records searching for: criminal/traffic/petty case records, civil, family, probate records, or judgements
3. In the next screen, there is a dropdown box. Change from "case number" to "defendent" or "party" or if searching for judgements just type in the first/last name

You can fill in other info too such as DOB, etc. if it's a common name to narrow down results.

MeraNamJoker said:   I read that most of criminal background checks are hit or miss since most of the counties do not have records online. And even if they do, some charge for access making it impossible to get nationwide records in single place. A 'clean' check from any agency doesn't mean anything.
  I have a "friend" who was arrested in 1992 for underage drinking by a city cop. The friend was 20. Same friend was appyling for a job last year and was curious if that arrest would show up on any background check so he or she went to the court clerk and asked. Court Clerk said "Electronic records only go back to 1996 and no way are we looking through boxes in the basement." Friend asked Clerk how many background requests his office receives.Clerk said "We've never have received one."

Typically, unless you have been in state or fed lock up, good luck on finding anything.

Spoiler Alert!
I was the friend.

CaptainCool said:   
fil66 said:   
CaptainCool said:   If you're in MN you can check all criminal records and court proceedings for free online. Even shows minor stuff like traffic fines if you want

Edit: forgot to provide the link

http://pa.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx

  
CaptainCool

I am a landlord in MN and this would be very helpful to me. When I went to the link it requires that you enter a case number which would make it harder to look people up. Do you have a work around for this or am I looking in the wrong place?

Thank you.

fill66

  
1. Make sure to keep the dropdown box at "all MNCIS Sites" to search all counties
2. Click on the type of records searching for: criminal/traffic/petty case records, civil, family, probate records, or judgements
3. In the next screen, there is a dropdown box. Change from "case number" to "defendent" or "party" or if searching for judgements just type in the first/last name

You can fill in other info too such as DOB, etc. if it's a common name to narrow down results.

  CaptainCool

Thanks for the help. I was just using it wrong.

 

I've used this company and service both previous times I've rented the condo I own. Thorough credit check/verifications etc. Tenant pays $100.00 fee and first month's rent up front. One month deposit if credit checks out, otherwise two (never happened.) I charge a little less than market rent and say up front that I want good tenants. I had my first stay for over three years. Hope this helps.

Phone: 281-282-0447
Toll Free Phone: 1-888-282-0447
Fax: 281-461-8647
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-286-7128
Website: www.aaacredit.net
Company E-mail: reports@aaacredit.net

Quick Screen Package $92.01 Statewide Criminal Records Check/Credit Report/Proir Address Search/SSN Search and Verifications/Current/Previous Employment Verifications

saradon said:   I've used this company and service both previous times I've rented the condo I own. Thorough credit check/verifications etc. Tenant pays $100.00 fee and first month's rent up front. One month deposit if credit checks out, otherwise two (never happened.) I charge a little less than market rent and say up front that I want good tenants. I had my first stay for over three years. Hope this helps.

Phone: 281-282-0447
Toll Free Phone: 1-888-282-0447
Fax: 281-461-8647
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-286-7128
Website: www.aaacredit.net 
Company E-mail: reports@aaacredit.net

Quick Screen Package $92.01 Statewide Criminal Records Check/Credit Report/Proir Address Search/SSN Search and Verifications/Current/Previous Employment Verifications

  That's more expensive than any application/credit fee I've ever seen.  At least in my area, I can't imagine many potential tenants paying that.

RedSombrero said:   saradon said:   I've used this company and service both previous times I've rented the condo I own. Thorough credit check/verifications etc. Tenant pays $100.00 fee and first month's rent up front. One month deposit if credit checks out, otherwise two (never happened.) I charge a little less than market rent and say up front that I want good tenants. I had my first stay for over three years. Hope this helps.

Phone: 281-282-0447
Toll Free Phone: 1-888-282-0447
Fax: 281-461-8647
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-286-7128
Website: www.aaacredit.net 
Company E-mail: reports@aaacredit.net

Quick Screen Package $92.01 Statewide Criminal Records Check/Credit Report/Proir Address Search/SSN Search and Verifications/Current/Previous Employment Verifications

  That's more expensive than any application/credit fee I've ever seen.  At least in my area, I can't imagine many potential tenants paying that.


I personally wouldn't apply to a place with a $100 fee. Unless that's what everybody else charges its way too high.

Also that is going to be $100 per person. $30 per person is $60-$90 for 2-3 adults. $100 per,u do the math.

CaptainCool said:   
RedSombrero said:   
saradon said:   I've used this company and service both previous times I've rented the condo I own. Thorough credit check/verifications etc. Tenant pays $100.00 fee and first month's rent up front. One month deposit if credit checks out, otherwise two (never happened.) I charge a little less than market rent and say up front that I want good tenants. I had my first stay for over three years. Hope this helps.

Phone: 281-282-0447
Toll Free Phone: 1-888-282-0447
Fax: 281-461-8647
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-286-7128
Website: www.aaacredit.net 
Company E-mail: reports@aaacredit.net

Quick Screen Package $92.01 Statewide Criminal Records Check/Credit Report/Proir Address Search/SSN Search and Verifications/Current/Previous Employment Verifications

  That's more expensive than any application/credit fee I've ever seen.  At least in my area, I can't imagine many potential tenants paying that.


I personally wouldn't apply to a place with a $100 fee. Unless that's what everybody else charges its way too high.

I charge a nominally lower rent (around ~40/month less I think) to keep it a bit on the lower end of the average for a comparable unit.  I don't want to churn tenants and I tell them -- honestly BTW -- that if they apply, unless there is some reason (like bad credit or tenant references, etc.) on the report that they will get the lease.  I don't want to churn tenants and if $100 to an individual, only to pay for the credit report, etc., is too much for a lower rent then frankly they do not appreciate what I am offering.  I want long term tenants.  Also it's $100 per person or couple.  And this company provides lots of types of checks on the web site, from around $20 to $250.  Mine's kind of in the middle, actually.



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