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Tenant screening and background checks: a guide for landlords

Industry Insight, Property News December 13th, 2023
Tenant screening and background checks: a guide for landlords

Screening and vetting potential tenants are crucial parts of managing rental properties as a landlord. Taking the time to thoroughly assess applicants can help ensure you find good, reliable long-term renters and avoid problem tenants who could cost you time and money in the long run. This guide will outline the key steps landlords should take when vetting tenants in the UK.


Conduct tenant background checks

One of the first steps is to run background checks on any applicants. This allows you to verify their identity and check for any past issues that could indicate they may not be suitable tenants. Useful checks include:

  • Credit check – Provides info on their financial history and any past defaults or missed payments. Many landlords stipulate a minimum credit score requirement.
  • Previous landlord references – A reference from a previous landlord can give insight into a tenant’s rental history. Were rent payments made on time? Did they cause any property damage?
  • Employer references – Confirmation of stable employment and income. Ask how long they have worked there, and confirm that their salary is enough to support their rent payments.
  • Identity check – A valid government ID proves who they say they are. A passport or driving licence, as well as a current proof of address, all help confirm identity.Property management software can help you track and organise all the information you gather about your tenants. Check out our complete guide to property management software to learn more.

Property management software can help you track and organise all the information you gather about your tenants. Check out our complete guide to property management software to learn more.


Ask for additional information

In the current rental climate, where available properties are in constant hot demand, landlords have their choice of tenants. That means they can ask for a little more information than is otherwise strictly necessary.

Why not ask prospective tenants to write a few sentences about themselves? That way, you can get a good idea of their personality and potentially how they’ll treat the property. A tenant who self-describes as someone who loves hosting student parties might not be who you want to live in your property.

You also have the opportunity to ask for more information about any pets they may have. Some landlords even ask for a ‘pet reference’ — a short document including the animal’s breed, age, personality, and testimonials from others.


Hold in-person viewings

Arrange to meet prospective tenants at the property. This provides an opportunity to further assess them.

Things to look out for:

  • How do they interact with you? Are they pleasant, aggressive, evasive?
  • Do they seem genuinely interested in the property itself?
  • Do they have reasonable questions about features and policies?
  • Do they appear trustworthy? Follow your instincts.


Watch out for red flags

Some behaviours during the screening process may indicate the applicant will be a problematic tenant. If they’re making excuses for credit issues, evictions, or references who won’t respond, they may not be trustworthy. Providing inaccurate or misleading information is also a big red flag.

Attitude is a great indicator of how a tenant will treat your property. If they don’t appear interested in the contract terms — possibly even being willing to sign their contract without reading it — that could indicate that they won’t take the care to abide by the contract’s terms.

Pay attention to red flags and dig deeper with additional questions to identify risky applicants. Don’t feel pressured into accepting tenants who seem unreliable.


Consider using a letting agent

Using a letting agent removes much of the vetting burden from landlords. Letting agents have extensive experience screening tenants and can undertake background and reference checks on your behalf. This provides an independent assessment of applicants.

Many landlords feel the costs of using an agent are worthwhile to find quality tenants. Agents also handle much of the ongoing tenancy management.


Conduct follow-up inspections

Keep close tabs on your property during the tenancy term. Conduct periodic inspections every 3-6 months to check on maintenance issues or damage. Annual inspections are also useful for longer tenancies.

Follow-up inspections help identify and address problems early on. They also encourage tenants to look after the property properly.


The takeaway

Vetting tenants thoroughly using background checks, detailed applications, and in-person viewings reduces the risks of bad tenants. Ongoing inspections and clear tenancy agreements also provide important safeguards. With robust processes in place, you can have confidence they will find and retain good tenants long-term.

👋 Do you want a better way to manage your properties? Arthur is the property management system built for independent landlords and small agencies. Find out more today.

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