Many landlords who are beginning the eviction process exclaim, “If I had only known!” Well, there are very few reasons we can think of why you should NOT have known. Before you put a tenant in your vacancy, be sure to thoroughly check them out. If you have a system in place and perform your due diligence on all applicants, chances are you will not end up with a deadbeat tenant. Below are a few considerations when checking out your applicants.
Step One: Have a Written Criteria List for Each Building
Create your written criteria list and be sure to give it to all applicants at the same time you give them the Application to Rent. This list serves two purposes:
- It enables the applicant to see your list of rental requirements BEFORE they submit an application. If your criteria list states that the applicant cannot have any record of evictions or must have at least a 600 FICO score – chances are, those that do not qualify will not return the application thereby saving you time.
- When followed consistently, your criteria list will keep you out of trouble with Fair Housing and allow you to treat all applicants fairly. (When you make an exception for one – you must make that exception for all.)
A Sample Criteria List may be found on AOA’s web site under the alphabetical list – you may use this to create your own list keeping in mind that you can have different requirements and a separate list for each building. Members may visit www.aoausa.com and download the sample criteria list for FREE.
Step Two: Get the Application Filled Out Completely
Along with the Credit Screening Fee
One of the requirements on your criteria list should be that you receive an application entirely filled out and SIGNED by the applicant in order to qualify. Please note that you may not run screening reports (Credit, criminal or eviction) without the applicant’s signature. Use AOA’s rental application – form 100A.
At the time you accept the application, be sure the applicant has also submitted your required documents, such pay stubs, a copy of their driver’s license or whatever else you listed on your criteria list. Also, collect the credit screening fee in cash, Cashier’s check or Money Order at the same time. Get everything needed at this time so you may immediately begin the screening process without having to go back to the applicant or wait for them to get you needed documents.
NOTE: DO NOT make notes or write anything on the application. Use a separate piece of paper.
Step Three: Give Applicant the Application Screening Fee Receipt
The law requires you to give the applicant a receipt itemizing your credit check and screening fees at the time you accept the application and screening fees. AOA provides form #147 for your convenience. Please keep in mind that you should only charge your actual out of pocket costs plus “a reasonable value of time spent” for background checks, personal information and employment verification. ($10 at the most). Currently, the law states that you cannot charge more than $53.64 for each applicant – (this amount changes periodically – usually on an annual basis). Be sure to keep a copy of the receipt for your records.
Step Four: Applicant Screening Package
Our goal at AOA is to make the screening process as painless as possible for our members. Print out or download AOA’s FREE form number 100S – the Applicant Screening Package to use for each rental applicant. This package includes a screening checklist which will guide you through the steps, keep you organized during the process and will serve as a reminder of proper screening procedures and suggestions.
The package also includes a rental history verification sheet and a written authorization of verification of employment, if needed.
Step Five: Begin Your Screening Process
Using AOA’s Applicant Screening Checklist as a guide, thoroughly check out your applicant. This includes:
- Employment verification
- Banking information
- Previous landlords
Once completed, if you received favorable information and the applicant meets all of your qualifications, continue to Step 5.
Step Five: Request Credit, Eviction and Criminal Reports from AOA
AOA allows you to either screen your tenants online 24/7 or call in for reports. We offer several low-cost screening packages that give you fast, easy and accurate information. Have your tenant pay for our extensive 5-Star Screening Report which includes:
- Two National Eviction Searches
- Instant Nationwide Criminal Search
- Credit Reports from Trans Union and Experian
- An A, B or C rating
- Fico Score
- Public Records
- Civil Judgments
- Social Security Verification
- Consumer Information and Tradelines
- Payment History
- Payment Obligations
- Credit Availability
- Prior Inquiries
- Experian Social Security Number Trace
Step Six: Applicant Rejection Must Be in Writing
If you choose to reject your applicant, you are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to give them an “Adverse Action Notice”. AOA provides this form #140 for this purpose. If you do not rent to them because of negative information received from credit reports, you must tell them the name of the agency that reported the negative or insufficient information and their right to obtain a copy of their report. DO NOT EXPLAIN THE REASON FOR THE REJECTION – just give them the rejection notice. This notice informs them who to call, provides phone numbers, other information and a copy of their rights.
By following these steps, you can simplify your screening process, become more organized, save time and increase your chances of avoiding a future eviction. All AOA forms may be found on www.aoausa.com.
Patricia Harris is Senior Editor of the AOA Buyers Guide.