When you have an apartment to rent, finding the perfect tenant can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Unlike renting out a single-family unit, apartment rentals come with their own set of responsibilities—like shared parking lots and greenspaces and being more susceptible to noise disturbances.

That being said, finding a great tenant is an important job. And what is the most efficient way to complete this task? By screening tenants with a thorough background check. Background checks are the cornerstone of building a stable, reliable tenancy, providing the right details to help you make a decision. Let's go into the importance of background checks for apartments and how they can safeguard your investment.

Rental Criteria: Your Blueprint for Tenant Selection

Before you can successfully complete a background check, you need to establish your rental criteria. These standards give you a baseline that you can refer to, ensuring your tenant selection process is fair, consistent, and compliant with fair housing laws. Your rental criteria checklist should encompass various aspects of a tenant's profile, including financial stability, rental history, and behavior.

Why Set Clear Rental Criteria?

The clearer your rental criteria, the greater success you’ll have in determining the right renter for your apartment. Not only can it make a landlord’s life easier, it can also provide the following benefits:

  • Consistency: Applying the same standards to all applicants minimizes the risk of discrimination claims.
  • Transparency: Clearly communicated criteria set clear expectations for potential tenants.
  • Efficiency: Streamline the tenant selection process by quickly identifying qualified applicants.

When creating your rental criteria, consider including rent requirements that align with the local market and legal regulations. These might include income thresholds, credit score minimums, and occupancy standards. 

Want more tips on setting your own tenant screening criteria? Check out our article on establishing rental criteria.

The Pillars of an Apartment Background Check

Background checks are the cornerstone of a comprehensive tenant screening process. They provide a snapshot of a prospective tenant's financial situation, rental history, and overall reliability.

Let's break down the key components of a background check:

1. Credit Check

A credit check reveals a tenant's financial responsibility by highlighting their credit history, debt levels, and payment habits. A healthy credit score, coupled with a history of timely payments, suggests financial stability, indicating the tenant's ability to meet rent requirements consistently.

2. Criminal History

While certain convictions may be relevant to the safety and security of your property and its residents, a criminal record should not automatically disqualify a person as a candidate.

3. Rental History

Past rental behavior is often a reliable predictor of future tenancy conduct. Contacting previous landlords can unveil invaluable insights into the tenant's reliability, cleanliness, and overall behavior. Did they pay rent on time? Were they respectful of the property and neighbors? These are crucial questions your rental criteria checklist should address.

4. Employment and Income Verification

Stable employment and sufficient income are strong indicators of a tenant's ability to meet rent requirements. A general rule of thumb is that a tenant's gross income should be at least three times the monthly rent. This threshold ensures that tenants can comfortably afford the rent alongside their other financial obligations.

How to Conduct an Apartment Background Check

As a landlord, you have two options when it comes to running a background check. You can go the do-it-yourself route with a separate background check service or use an online screening tool as part of your property management software. 

Traditional Background Check

A traditional background check, when done through a reputable company, can provide information about criminal records, identity verification, employment verification, credit score, credit history, past evictions, and more. The fees will vary based on the platform you choose. While a traditional check can be a good option, it can be tricky to navigate through multiple apps and services, especially if you like having an online application process for each tenant. 

Traditional background services are also usually catered for large companies, so the overall cost may be higher and unnecessary for landlords with smaller portfolios.

Online Screenings

Several property management platforms, such as TenantCloud, have tenant screening tools that can provide quick, convenient background checks online. With online screenings, a landlord can pay on a case-by-case basis (or include the background check fees as part of the initial application process). These background checks are thorough and can even be broken down by state and county searches, giving you plenty of information to make your decision without overstepping anyone’s privacy.

How to Screen Tenants Online

Whether you choose a DIY background check or use a built-in screening tool, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  • Application Form: Collect comprehensive information from each applicant, including employment history, previous addresses, and personal references.
  • Credit Report Authorization: Obtain written permission to perform a credit check, respecting applicants' privacy and complying with legal requirements.
  • Landlord References: Reach out to previous landlords to inquire about the applicant's rental history, behavior, and lease compliance.
  • Employment Verification: Confirm the applicant's employment status and income to ensure they meet your rent requirements.
  • Personal Interviews: A face-to-face or virtual meeting can provide additional context and help you assess the applicant's compatibility with your rental property.

By adhering to a thorough tenant screening checklist, you not only protect your property but also contribute to a positive, respectful rental community.

Navigating Legal Considerations

When selecting a renter for your apartment, be sure to adhere to the guidelines in the Fair Housing Act, which protects individuals from being discriminated against while renting or buying a home. Discriminatory practices, whether intentional or inadvertent, can lead to significant legal repercussions. Ensure that your rental criteria and tenant screening practices are equitable, transparent, and consistently applied to all applicants.

The Ripple Effect of Thorough Background Checks

The benefits of diligent background checks extend far beyond the immediate tenant-landlord relationship. They contribute to the overall well-being of the rental community, fostering a safe, respectful, and harmonious living environment. Satisfied tenants are more likely to respect the property, adhere to lease terms, and engage positively with their neighbors, creating a virtuous cycle of tenancy.

Conclusion: An Investment in Peace of Mind

In the grand scheme of apartment management, background checks are more than just a procedural step; they are an investment in the long-term success and stability of your rental business. By setting clear rental criteria and following a comprehensive tenant screening checklist, you can select tenants who meet your rent requirements and contribute to your rental community's positive dynamics.

Remember, the goal is not just to fill your apartments but to cultivate a thriving, respectful tenant base that values your property as their home. With thorough background checks as your foundation, you're well on your way to achieving just that.

Currently looking to fill a vacant apartment? TenantCloud’s online tools can help you stay organized and committed every step of the way. You can list your apartment, collect applications, and request comprehensive screening reports, all in one place. Simply start a free trial and begin taking applications and screening tenants right away.