When you invest in real estate, it’s an exciting time to start your search for your first tenant because this person will bring in income for your property. At the same time, it’s overwhelming.
You want to make sure you find a quality tenant, and this might include doing some research online to check their background using an informal site like Information.com or a standard background check tool. You also want to find someone with a reliable income, but when you’re screening tenants, you must balance this with following all relevant housing laws.
The following is a guide to what to know about legally finding your first high-quality tenant.
How To Find Your First Tenant
Once you’ve secured your rental investment property, you’ll need to fill it. You have two primary steps that you need to follow through with. First, you need to market your property, and second, you need to screen your tenants.
One of the best ways to fill a rental, if at all possible, is by tapping into your network of personal contacts. You can put the word out among your family and friends that you have a vacant rental, and maybe they’ll know someone who’s looking. You can post on your social media pages as well. When you have even an indirect connection to your renter, it’s optimal.
If you do that and can’t find a tenant, real estate listing sites are a good way to market a rental. You want to make sure your pictures and description are high-quality so you can attract the kinds of renters you’re looking for.
You can always put up a “for rent” sign on the property to attract people who are driving by. For a more high-end rental or neighborhood, you might have a box on the property with printouts of information about the rental. You can also set up a text line where people can find out more about your rental after they see your sign.
If you’re not getting much attention on your rental, you might need to rethink how and where you’re marketing it, and perhaps also your price. You should base your rental price on comparable properties in the area.
You can also determine the market rate for rent in the area of your investment by talking to property managers who handle similar properties, potentially asking real estate agents, or reviewing ads for other rentals online.
Other tips for marketing your property include:
- When you’re writing your listings, you want to highlight all the best features of your property and make sure anyone reading it has all the information they’ll need.
- You should strongly consider hiring a professional photographer to take photos of your listing. This can make a huge difference.
- Sometimes, you may need to time the rental market. The spring and summer are the peak rental seasons. This is when most tenants are moving into new rentals, so this is when you’re likely to get the most interest. You might be able to list your property at a higher price than if you do it during the off-season.
- Consider adding virtual tours of the property on social media.
What Are The Qualities Of A Good Tenant?
As a landlord, having a great tenant can feel like a dream. Some of the qualities and characteristics that tend to make the best renters include:
- No criminal convictions or at least not any that are relevant to being a renter. Around one in five rental applicants have at least one blemish on their criminal record, according to data and research. Not all crimes are going to be the same as far as affecting whether someone will be a good tenant or not, though. You want to try and avoid tenants who could potentially be destructive to your property, but not every offense is a deal-breaker. Things to consider include when the offense occurred, whether the nature of the offense could put other tenants at risk, how it could affect their ability to pay their rent, and whether the offense could put your property at risk.
- A clean eviction record is important. If you have a tenant who’s not paying on time or not paying altogether, you’re going to lose money, and it can end up putting you in a difficult financial situation. Just one eviction can cost a landlord thousands of dollars and take weeks to sort out. Past evictions tend to be good predictors of future risk for a landlord. If an applicant has a history of paying their rent on time, then this can be a sign they’re likely to continue that behavior.
- Good credit history is important. Again, if you’re not getting paid by a tenant, then you might not be able to keep up with your mortgage payments and expenses. Someone with a good credit score and a history of on-time payments is someone you might want to rent to.
- You’ll need a renter with a stable income and employment. The industry standard is that a tenant should make at least three times the cost of their rent in their monthly income, although this standard can vary depending on where you are in the country.
- You also want renters who have certain personal qualities. For example, they should be respectful and good communicators. You should also feel like they’re being honest with you.
The Screening Process
To make sure you’re getting the above characteristics, you should have a thorough and standardized screening process.
The screening process starts when someone completes an application. You want a rental application that gets as much information as possible but isn’t too long. You want to learn more about their income, rental history, and employment. If someone isn’t willing to provide this information, that’s already a red flag. A good tenant is going to understand that you have to protect yourself, which is why the application is necessary.
From there, you’ll request the social security number and date of birth of applicants so that you can use them to run a formal credit check. Make sure you get signed authorization before doing so. You’ll want to look for foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, and repossession.
You can also use the credit report to find information about their payment history and employment. Some landlords take the income an applicant lists at face value, but most don’t, nor should they. You’ll need to verify the applicant’s listed income, which you can do by asking for a couple of recent paystubs. On those paystubs, you’ll want to look at both the gross income and what they’ve earned to date.
There are some landlords who go even further and ask for bank statements or two years of W2s. As a landlord, you don’t want to be excessive because tenants aren’t applying for a mortgage. You do just want to get a general idea of whether or not the applicant can reasonably and comfortably afford the monthly rent.
Income and employment help you figure out if someone is qualified, but you also need to call references. These references should include the current employer and previous landlords. Call as many as you can.
Fair Housing Laws
There are both state and federal anti-discrimination laws that you need to be aware of when you’re selecting tenants. One big thing to remember is to be consistent when you screen people. Don’t just do credit reports for certain applicants, for example, no matter what your reason might be.
You can legally choose among the applicants for your rental as long as you’re basing your decisions on legitimate business reasons. You can’t make decisions based on personal reasons.
Reasons that it’s illegal to refuse to rent to someone include race, national origin, age, gender, religion, physical or mental disability, or familial status. A lot of states also have laws against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status.
If you’re treating everyone consistently, you’re more likely to be in line with the law. If you’re arbitrarily setting standards that are tougher for minorities, for example, then you could be in violation of federal law.
Can You Check Social Media Profiles?
Finally, are you allowed to check the social media profiles of potential tenants? – It is possible that you could legally check social media profiles when choosing tenants, but you have to be careful. You should already have established the criteria for who you’ll rent to and who you won’t from a business perspective. You need to stick to this, even if you check social media.
The things that might be a red flag on social media include job-hopping listed on LinkedIn, which might indicate their income isn’t stable, or photos of them engaging in illegal activity on Instagram or Facebook. Their religious and political views expressed on social media, by contrast, are not legitimate reasons to turn someone down.
You can look at what’s already public on social media, but you can’t ask a tenant or applicant to give you access to their social media profiles as part of your screening.
If you are going to use social media, make sure you’re clear with what you’re looking for going into it.
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