Verandah Central Florida Blog

What You Need to Know About Screening Tenants Effectively and Legally in Central Florida

Pamela McNab-Syvertson - Thursday, September 26, 2019

When you get applications from potential tenants to rent your property in Orlando or Clermont, it can be easy to jump the gun. After all, every day is a day of vacancy until you get a tenant in the property and paying you rent. However, due diligence is strongly advised for new tenants, especially if you are a reasonably inexperienced landlord. Many of the tenants who cause problems for landlords have had these problems in the past with other landlords. A careful, legal screening process can help you to select well from the applications you've received.

Screening tenants, as we'll talk about later, doesn't mean discriminating based on our biases or prejudices about who can and cannot be a good tenant. Instead, it involves looking at the proper ways to evaluate a tenant and noticing red flags directly related to landlord-tenant relationships here in Central Florida.

Keep in mind that while we're giving some background information to enhance your understanding of the screening procedure as a landlord, the following is not meant to be legal advice. Consult with your legal counsel if you're unsure of how to proceed with the screening process for your tenants.

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1. Use Reputable, FCRA-Compliant Screening Services

There are a variety of services that will help you remain compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This legislation outlines the proper ways and reasons to check a person's credit score. Credit reports are typically pulled to showcase a person's past responsibility in making payments and managing their debt. A low credit score may indicate either unmanageable amounts of debt or missed/late payments. A high score displays the consistency of the person's payments.

Credit checks are undoubtedly valuable for landlords who want to carefully screen tenants, though many screening services will offer other tests as well. For instance, checking the previous rental history of a tenant can be illuminating, including many different landlords, unusually short stays in a variety of properties, or a landlord reference who cannot vouch for the tenant as a reliable tenant. This information allows you to make the right choice between your applicants to contract with someone who can pay rent and a track record of making those payments promptly. 

Lastly, a criminal background check can be a part of this process. Some crimes are relevant to your interests as a landlord. Even things like frequent nuisance charges for being too loud at inappropriate times can be relevant if your property is close enough to other properties. However, it is wise to give potential tenants a chance to explain their circumstances as well: not every kind of criminal charge is relevant to being a landlord! Think carefully about whether a criminal charge is a red flag for responsible renting or not.

2. Avoid Discrimination

The work of screening tenants can run up against our own biases and prejudices, even for experienced landlords. Bias emerges when we see a pattern of behavior among groups of people and then 'pre-judge' a new person as following those patterns. Bias happens in our minds, but discrimination happens when we allow these pre-judgments to affect our decisions via significant choices, like whom we will invite to rent our homes.

One of the best ways to avoid discrimination is to create clear qualifications or a points system for ranking applications before you see who has applied. Only include relevant criteria like missed or late rent payments. Rely as little as possible on your "gut feelings," especially before you narrow down the pool to a small group of qualified rental candidates. This way, you ensure that you screen effectively without being discriminatory.

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3. Property Managers Help You Screen Well

While landlords often take quite a while to get to know the best way to screen effectively, a property management company will have tested so many tenants in the past that they will have a highly developed sense for the red flags that could create trouble for a landlord. They know how to obey the law, avoid discriminatory choices in accepting tenants, and recruit a broad applicant pool to get as many options as possible. 

When you are looking for a property management company, turn to Verandah Properties! We offer free consultations and can show you our process for tenant screenings so that you can see how effectively we find your next excellent tenants. We also recognize the risks that you incur when you work as a landlord, no matter how carefully you screen your tenants. We offer Landlord Protection Insurance to help you safeguard against malicious damage, loss of rent, or eviction costs, should the unthinkable happen. We want your property management coverage to be as comprehensive as possible, from working with talented, professional managers and contractors to knowing what the next step should be if you find yourself with an uncooperative, non-paying tenant. 

Verandah Properties works to be your go-to management company at all stages of a landlord's journey, including those times when the going gets tough. We know that filling your investment property with reliable tenants requires more than a thorough screening process. Your property needs to undergo a similar "screening process" once a new tenant has been selected. 

Verandah Properties has put together a handy guide for this phase: our FREE Make-Ready Checklist! Once you've selected the perfect tenant through screening, let's get started on making your property move-in ready!

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