Tenant Management, Tenant Screening

How To Screen Tenants in 7 Easy Steps

how to screen tenants

If you own a rental property, your success greatly depends on the type of tenants that live there. With good renters, you don’t have to worry about the well-being of your property or the rent payment. On the other hand, a bad renter can be a source of never-ending anxiety. To avoid distress, you must learn how to screen tenants properly before entering into an agreement with them.

Tenant screening can help minimize the risk of having bad tenants. As a result, you save yourself from the potential loss of rental income, damage to your property, and costly evictions.

Whether you are a first-time landlord or an experienced pro, you can easily conduct the screening yourself using the best tenant screening services on the market. These tenant screening solutions coordinate and automate the process, saving you time and money in the long run. They will not only improve tenant retention but will also make owning a rental property hassle-free.

Also Read: The Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords

In this article, we’ll explore 7 easy steps on how to screen tenants for your rental property.

7 Steps on How to Screen Tenants

Landlords can screen prospective tenants as part of their tenant selection process. This can be done in 7 easy steps:

  1. Set up an account with a tenant screening service
  2. Create an application
  3. Screen applicant
  4. Verify identity
  5. Review reports
  6. Check references
  7. Select tenant

1. Set Up an Account With a Tenant Screening Service

The first step is to choose a tenant screening service that best suits your needs. It helps landlords to carry out background checks, credit reports, eviction history, and verify past landlord and employment history.

Check out our guide on the best tenant screening services for small landlords and choose a service that is right for you. We have carefully analyzed each service based on critical factors including credit data and scoring; criminal background records; identity, employment, and address history; evictions and judgments; costs; and flexibility.

No matter what service you choose, creating an account is free and easy. You only have to add basic information such as property details. The whole sign up process is simple and quick, taking less than 5 minutes in many cases.

These are our winners for the best tenant screening service:

  • An industry leader in tenant screening, RentPrep offers a selection of reports starting at $21. Get started by setting up your free RentPrep Account.
  • Strength: Tenant Screening
  • Tenant screening solution perfect for independent landlords. Screen tenants, market your vacancies, and take applications for free.
  • Strength: Tenant Screening
  • Advertise your property, find and screen tenants, sign leases, collect rent, and e-sign custom local leases, with tools built specifically for DIY landlords.
  • Strength: Complete Solution

2. Create an Application

Most screening services and property management software include an application for the interested party to complete when applying for a tenant screening report. Often, the software allows you to customize the questions you ask applicants. Most applications also ask applicants for authorization to run a tenant screening report.

Bear in mind that if multiple applicants are going to share the property, they all must submit an application and undergo the screening process.

You should also ensure you have your rental criteria and pre-screening questions set before you start accepting applications. A rental criteria checklist is a guide to help you simplify the approval process. It can also protect you in case of a discrimination claim. It ensures your tenant screening process is impartial and fair as well as consistent across all properties and applicants.

Additionally, pre-screening questions help you save time and money by attracting only the best renters. This way, you can eliminate candidates who are not a good match for your property.

Another important consideration is to know all the relevant laws to avoid housing discrimination. For example, the Fair Housing Act safeguards individuals from discrimination when they’re leasing or purchasing a house, getting a loan, looking for lodging support, or are involved in other accommodation-related activities. For specific questions and information, we advise you to consult an attorney.

  • Rocket Lawyer makes the law simple and affordable with thousands of easy-to-create legal documents, quick access to independent local attorneys, and much more.
  • Strength: Legal Services
how to screen tenants steps

3. Screen Applicants

After you show your property, interested parties will have to fill out the application. Again, only the most qualified applicants will continue with this step if you have done proper pre-screening.

With online screening services, you can easily invite individuals to apply. Some of the best tenant screening services also allow interested applicants to apply directly from the listing.

When it comes to costs, most software automatically charges applicants to pay for the screening service directly, while a few allow the landlord to pay or split the costs. Often, you will receive one standard tenant screening report. On the other hand, some products allow you to select from multiple options and bundles. For example, you can choose whether you want to check background only, credit only, or credit + criminal history. You’ll also find services like ApplyConnect that allow applicants to re-use applications and submit screening reports for up to 3 properties within a 30-day period.

  • Tenant screening solution perfect for independent landlords. Screen tenants, market your vacancies, and take applications for free.
  • Strength: Tenant Screening

To learn more about the capabilities of different online tenant screening services, check out our detailed guide here.

4. Verify Identity

How do you ensure the person you think you’re renting to is actually the one you’re screening? Make sure to get copies of their official government IDs for verification. Some screening services allow you to request documentation and the applicant can directly upload files and photos such as ID, paystubs, W2s, etc.

Most of the best screening services verify the applicant’s social security number, employment history, and past addresses for you. Others, such as ApplyConnect, will also provide past names and aliases.

5. Review Tenant Screening Reports

Now is the time to carefully review the comprehensive tenant screening reports. Each report should include the following main information:

  • Credit score – Consider income vs monthly debt burden. Also, look at the overall picture to see if the applicant has a poor credit history, missed payments, outstanding medical payments, or student loan debt. All these may negatively impact their credit score but may not necessarily be the best indication of their current status. Evaluate all this information in light of your criteria. What minimum credit score and income to rent ratio did you set? Does the applicant meet your criteria?
  • Criminal history – Where legal to do so, check criminal background. Look for context. For example, how recent was the crime? What was the severity? Was it a minor lapse in judgment when they were younger, or something more serious? Again, having your rental criteria set before checking criminal history makes it easier when reviewing this information.
  • Eviction history – Evaluate if they have had any prior evictions or missed rent payments. This may be an indication of how they see the importance of rent responsibilities and whether they make it a habit to pay rent before spending on other less essential items.

6. Check References

It’s important to check both landlord and employment references to get insightful information about your potential tenant before jumping to sign paperwork. Check out our article on the best questions to ask rental references when you screen tenants.

Talking to references is a great way to learn more about your candidate. References can help you evaluate their character, interpersonal skills, financial fitness, and ability to pay. Some tenant screening products like Avail can also email references for you.

Also Read: Choosing the best questions to ask rental references

  • Advertise your property, find and screen tenants, sign leases, collect rent, and e-sign custom local leases, with tools built specifically for DIY landlords.
  • Strength: Complete Solution
steps on how to screen tenants

7. Select Tenant

After you have reviewed tenant screening reports and checked references, the last step is to review your rental criteria checklist to see which applicants have met your criteria. Some solutions, like RentPrep’s Credit Decision Report, indicate whether the applicant has passed or failed based on the criteria you set up front. Others, like RentRedi and ScreenRenters, use TransUnion to provide a “Resident Score” that helps grade the applicant’s credit quality.

  • An industry leader in tenant screening, RentPrep offers a selection of reports starting at $21. Get started by setting up your free RentPrep Account.
  • Strength: Tenant Screening
  • RentRedi is an all-inclusive landlord-tenant app. Manage vacancies, screening, and rent collection from wherever you are, on any device.
  • Strength: Complete Solution
  • Clear & comprehensive reports including TransUnion credit records, criminal and eviction history, sex offender search, and terrorist watch list results. All for $30, paid by the tenant.
  • Strength: Tenant Screening

Depending on the laws where you are, there may be a process to determine which applicant you must choose. For example, according to Seattle’s First In Time rental law, landlords in Seattle must accept the first applicant who meets the criteria you posted when advertising a vacant rental.

If you deny an applicant, you may need to send an Adverse Action notice. An adverse action is any action by a property-owner that is unfavorable to the interests of an applicant or renter. Many screening services will provide one for you to send your applicant.


Finding the right tenant is a process. However, it is important to protect yourself, your property, as well as other tenants. With a tenant screening service, you can quickly and easily handle many of these steps directly from the software.

The best tenant screening services take a lot of the guesswork out of selecting the best tenant for your rental. If you still aren’t sure about how to screen tenants, check out our landlord resources for in-depth articles and analysis of different products.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and Landlord Gurus may earn a commission. Our mission remains to provide valuable resources and information that helps landlords manage their rental properties efficiently and profitably. We link to these companies and their products because of their quality, not because of the commission.

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About Chris Lee

Chris comes from a family of real estate investors, and remembers well his childhood of helping to prepare apartments between renters. He now manages his own property, apartment complexes, and condos. He has particular insight into the issues around short-term rentals as he manages those for himself and for other owners.
View all posts by Chris Lee →

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