Updated February 7, 2022
'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,' as the saying goes, and this applies to renter screening in a very real way! Thorough renter screening does come with a cost, but doing it the right way, in the beginning, can save thousands of dollars and hours of work in the end when you avoid a risky resident who isn't the right fit for your property!
Once you list your Philadelphia rental home successfully, it's crucial to screen every applicant to find your next renter.
Think of your screening process like the right suit of armor for your investment portfolio: armor is designed to stop a sword or arrow from piercing the person inside it. Your screening process is designed to keep scammers and other dangers out of your rental homes. If you fail to screen each applicant equally, you open yourself up to liability and litigation. While it's no sword-fight, these two 'Ls' of law can still end up costing you—and investors don't always win.
Screening your renters carefully now means you're less likely to regret your decision in the future. That's a big win for rental property owners when trying to creatively oust the resident you placed can land you in hot water on social media when your renters start tweeting about eviction-by-rent-hike. This is also another reason why it's important to partner up with a property management pro.
When you work with a professional Philadelphia property management partner like Rentwell, you can rest assured that the renters placed in your investment will be responsible and respectful of their new home. If you're looking for a new renter, we can take the stress out of the process! Otherwise, be sure to consider the following points to ensure you have all of the tools you need to find the right renter.
Please note: This article is not a substitute for a skilled attorney's great legal advice or the expert services of a property management professional. When in doubt, reach out to Rentwell!
How Philadelphia Property Managers Screen Renters
Looking into these criteria will help you find responsible renters. Be sure to develop your rental criteria before you start screening renters. To be compliant with fair housing laws, you need to apply your criteria to everyone equally. However, unless you're a practicing attorney, lawyer, or gung-ho paralegal, if you are handling screening on your own, you'll want to consult your attorney to ensure you are following relevant rental law in Philadelphia during this process.
Identification and Application
Step one: Are they who they say they are? Get a copy of their ID and their Social Security number so you can run the appropriate checks. You'll want to be sure they sign a form stating they understand what their personal information is being used for and that they consent.
This is the one and only time you should use this information. Never pull up their number to check if they got a stimulus payment, for example—just don't. On the application, ask for their previous addresses so you can match that information to their reports as a double-check against identity theft.
If someone is using stolen information to try to rent from you, you can guarantee from the start they are trouble. Plus, this is one of the top things many investors forget to check when screening their future residents. Always verify their information and former rental history! It could be the difference between landing a long-term renter and landing a 'Professional Tenant.'
Prior Rental History
A background check should bring up some addresses; match them to the application, and call any prior rentals. Were they evicted? Did your renters leave on good terms? If someone was a good renter before, chances are they will continue to be a good renter for you! If there is a history of damages, evictions, or broken leases, be warned: these are red flags, not pink.
A credit score is a number calculated by a complicated statistical model that represents the likelihood that someone will pay their debts. A minimum credit score of 500 is usually a good starting point, but you'll want to decide beforehand what is and is not acceptable to you, and what range on the low end requires a cosigner (if you offer such an option).
Determine as well what things on a credit report are and are not dealbreakers. For example, student loans might be something you're willing to waive if credit cards are all paid on time. Student loans and medical debt happen to be a hot-button topic right now, so credit card debt can often be a better indicator of reliability. Again, pick your criteria first, and then stick with it for everyone.
A background check should include criminal records from national and state databases and local municipalities, but the rules on this can vary wildly from place to place. In most cases, the Sex Offender Registry is a safe bet. Still, if you aren't sure what you're allowed to check (and use) as criteria during a screening, it's best to consult with a Philadelphia property management partner or your trusted attorney.
Your investigation of your potential renter isn't complete without a dive into their employment! You need to ensure that your future resident can pay the rent on time, every time. To do this comfortably, it's safe to benchmark that prospective renters should be earning about two to three times the monthly rent rate. This number isn't set in stone, but it's considered a pretty good idea by most housing experts—even though inflation is having a field day with the concept.
Avoid Discrimination to Screen Like a Pro
The above criteria are a great way to dive into the screening process, but it's crucial that they are established ahead of time and applied to each applicant you screen, every time you screen. Other than working with a Philadelphia property management company or third-party screening partner, staying consistent is the number one way to avoid discrimination in your screening process. It also helps if your screening process is free of intentional—or unintentional—bias against a race, color, sex, familial status, religion, national origin, or age.
We'll even help you avoid these tricky topics and get started for free when you download your copy of our Tenant Screening Checklist! There's no reason not to get your screening process started off on the right foot, and it's sure hard to beat 'free.'