Screening a potential renter is about your comfort level. If you want greater assurances that you are renting part of your home to someone of good character, you will take the time and expense to utilize each of these tools. If your anxiety level is sub normal, then you will rely on a smile and a handshake. But you must know that these tools are available to you. We will begin with the free tools and move to the ones that require a fee.
References – It is not unreasonable to ask for references names and phone numbers. Be sure to ask the applicant if the references are aware that you will call them allowing them to release information about them. Questions to references are typically generic in nature. Be sure not to ask yes or no questions. You want the reference to open up and be honest and candid about the applicant. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions if there is something that is said that does not sit well with you.
Previous Landlord – This may be a bit more difficult to get honest answers if they have rented from a company such as a property management company or apartment complex. But if they rented from another homeowner, you definitely want to talk to this person. The former landlord will know of any problems such as if rent was paid on time, personality conflicts, overall demeanor and respect.
Sex Offender Database – There is some controversy over renting to a known sex offender. There is the thought that they have paid their dues (and due to the stigma are continuing to pay) and should be allowed the opportunity to reenter society and there are those that want, at all costs, to be nowhere near people with this type of background. They may have certain restrictions that don’t allow them to rent due to children in the home or proximity to schools and parks. You can look up a person’s name on the National Sex Offender Public Website (www.nsopw.gov). This is a quick and effortless way to bring peace of mind. If you should happen to discover that the person is a registered sex offender and you do not want to extend them an offer, it would be wise not to mention this as the reason. This will only lead to potential conflict.
Background Check – Again, the landlord’s tolerance for renting to people with troubled pasts must be determined before the process starts. A consent form must be signed by the applicant allowing you to run the background. Often, an application fee can be requested to cover the costs.
Credit Check – As a landlord you can run an applicant’s credit only with their written permission. This document is often provided to you by the credit check company. It is likely they will not conduct the check without a signed consent. The reason for a credit check is to determine the applicant’s ability to pay his rent. With this information, though, comes great responsibility. The applicant has given your permission to look at very personal information about them. It is incumbent upon you as a responsible person to keep this information to yourself and not disseminate this information either in physical form, verbally or by insinuation. Credit checks for room rentals are infrequent and would typically be used for higher end properties.
Background and Credit checks are often purchased as bundled packages through Background Check companies. These types of checks are infrequent but not necessarily unreasonable. Keep in mind, that insisting your applicants jump through these types of hoops may reduce your potential applicant pool to nearly zero.