A female landlord smiles while holding up a set of keys with a keychain shaped like a house.

How to Find and Vet Tenants

A Comprehensive Guide to Securing Your Rental Property and Income

Last Updated: March 12, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Create strong listings to advertise your rental property through various platforms and tools to reach tenants.
  • Use effective tools to help you screen potential tenants and find the right renter for your property.
  • Understand legal requirements for landlords during the screening process.

A landlord’s most significant concern is a tenant's reliability.
Will they pay the rent on time?
Will they be a good neighbor and treat the property well?
Whether you have a residential or commercial property to rent, finding the best tenants takes time and thorough screening. This guide will help you with tips and advice for finding the perfect tenant for your rental property.

How to attract responsible tenants

Being a landlord is more than compiling the proper rental documents and determining a rental price. You need to know who you want in a tenant and what will bring them to your property.
So, first, write out your tenant criteria before you begin your listing. This includes a minimum credit score, income-to-rent ratio, what kind of business your building is appropriate for (if applicable), etc.
Making a detailed list will help you create your application and support your decisions. It will also keep you consistent in your selections and give you documentation of what you require in a successful application.
Once you’ve set your criteria for an ideal tenant, effective advertising is key to ensuring that the right people find your property. This means having good listing practices to reach prospective applicants.
When you’re preparing your listings for a property, keep the following in mind:

1. Capture strong photos of your property

People are very visual when looking at a new home; photos may be one of the first things they see or look for after the rental price. As a bonus, if these images accurately depict the state of the property at the time a tenant takes possession, they may be useful to attach to a Rental Inspection Report once you find your tenant and begin the leasing process.
  • Use a good camera to take high-quality images
  • Clean and stage the space, if possible
  • Consider the lighting and angles
  • Take exterior and interior photos
  • Include photos of local amenities and floor plans
Creating a video/virtual walk-through of the property will also help grab the attention of renters.

2. Create a listing that appeals to the right tenants

Next, it’s important to craft a listing that sets clear expectations and addresses your property's best-selling points.
A well-written listing reflects on a landlord’s professionalism and attention to detail. This helps portray a level of responsibility, which may attract similarly responsible tenants.
Take a look at some examples of what to highlight in addition to your rental price when listing the space:
Listing Details & Best Practices

Residential Property Tips

Commercial Property Tips

Property description: Be informative but concise. Include key details that may be of interest to your ideal tenant. For example, square footage is a crucial detail relevant to every applicant, but there are other building features that may entice certain tenants.
  • List the number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Describe unique features that add to the comfort or character of the home (e.g., garage parking, common areas, wheel-chair accessibility features, etc.)
  • List the number of office spaces or describe the staff/customer facilities
  • Describe unique features that make the space suitable for certain businesses/industries (e.g., spaces differ for office, retail, and production needs)
  • Business tenants may prioritize building accessibility for their workers or clients
Location and amenities: Include details of what is in the area that benefits a tenant. If there are any building amenities that can attract certain tenants (e.g., who value convenience and lifestyle amenities), mention those too.
  • List nearby shopping centers, public transit routes, and schools
  • Speak to the community’s reputation, nearby natural spaces, and other potential amenities that are accessible
  • Explain whether the location is good for certain clients (e.g., close to public transit, student housing, other similar industries, etc.
  • List building modifications or chattel that come with the rental unit
  • List any availability of natural resources. For example, certain businesses (e.g., agriculture, mining, or manufacturing) may require access to specific natural resources (e.g., water, minerals, timber) for their operations
Utilities and building services: Clarify which utilities are included in the rent and which ones are the responsibility of the tenant. If possible, highlight energy-efficient features, maintenance, and any other services.
  • Specify if utilities are included in the rent
  • List any extra fees, such as for parking, landscaping, or maintenance
  • Give details of what utilities and maintenance are included or negotiable with their rental agreement
  • Explain staff and customer parking
Screening criteria: Be aware of fair housing laws and ensure screening criteria do not discriminate.

Be clear and concise about requirements while providing enough information to attract suitable tenants.
  • List the rent amount with a disclaimer that applicants must demonstrate good credit and sufficient income to cover rent
  • Specify smoking and pet policies to ensure clarity for potential tenants
  • Indicate that some applicants may need to provide references, guarantors, or consent to background checks
  • State any financial requirements, such as a minimum annual revenue or proof of a credit score above a certain number
  • Specify if the tenant must carry insurance with specific coverage
  • Mention any specific usage restrictions (e.g., ideal for professional offices, no food service businesses)
Rent incentives: Give details of any promotional rent deductions or perks when signing a lease (e.g., first month rent-free, discounts for certain utility providers, etc.)
  • Including utilities or services (e.g., internet) in the rent for a limited time is a common incentive
  • Reduced deposit offers
  • Offer move-in specials, such as the first month’s rent-free
  • Early move-in date
  • Provide improvement allowances, which are funds or reimbursements for the tenant to customize or upgrade the space to their needs (e.g., paint, flooring, electric, plumbing)
  • Offer a rent-free period at the beginning of the lease term
  • Explain how you are flexible on lease terms, giving business tenants the ability to scale up or down without the constraints of a long-term lease
Implementing these tips into your listing will create a captivating description of the property while addressing essential criteria for a target group of renters. In the end, this is crucial for narrowing applications to those who are a better match.

3. Place your listing where searching tenants will find it

You’ve drafted your listing and are eager to start curating interest in your property. That’s fantastic!
Just remember, where you place your listing will determine the audience it will reach, and most people search for rental properties online. For online listings, you can use platforms such as:
To reach people beyond online platforms, look to the community. There is always word-of-mouth, but you can utilize:
  • Section 8 housing (if you’re eligible through your Public Housing Authority)
  • Flyers for multi-home rental properties and commercial buildings
  • For RentorLeasingsigns on the property
  • Hosting an open house
  • News listings

4. Consider the time of year for listing your rental

People will always be looking for a place to live throughout the year. However, there are periods when the demand for housing can increase for certain tenants.
Consider your target audience and the times of year they will most likely be moving so you can time the release of your listing accordingly.
A study from Smartmove found that peak season for listings begins in May and extends throughout the summer. These numbers are due to situations such as students moving closer to campus, families changing homes before the new school year, and, of course, better weather. As such, residential landlords will benefit from advertising rentals with these considerations in mind.
Commercial landlords, on the other hand, will need to consider the type of industry their business tenant operates in and how that impacts the timing of their move.

To help make the process of collecting applications quicker, include an application form in your listing so interested candidates can send it immediately.

How do I screen potential tenants effectively?

To vet applicants efficiently, you need to determine how potential tenants measure up to the list of criteria you created earlier. This means thoroughly examining the applicants' histories and current financial stability.
The steps to effective tenant screening are as follows.

1. Use a rental application form

The key document for screening applicants is a commercial or residential rental application.These are essential tools for landlords to obtain the information that confirms whether a candidate meets your minimum requirements.
For example, an application collects information that helps when:
  • Confirming employment, income, and credit scores
  • Getting permission for credit or background checks
  • Collecting contact details for references
Keep all the applications you receive on file for some time, even after renting the property. They can protect you from possible disputes should a denied applicant have an issue with your decision.
For example, say a tenant doesn’t have a reliable income but claims you denied their application for unlawful reasons. You could use the application to show they didn’t produce sufficient evidence of a stable income, failing to meet your criteria.

2. Check references

References are a great insight into how a potential tenant will behave if you accept their application. Previous landlords will know if applicants pay rent on time, cause any issues with other tenants, or if they’ve had any concerns with that tenant. You can also check with a current employer to better understand their financial situation.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask a reference:
  • Were they evicted, or did they leave on good terms?
  • Did they take good care of the home?
  • Were they courteous to neighbors or other business tenants?
  • Would you rent to them again in the future?
  • Did they pay rent in full and on time?

3. Check credit and background, if needed

Conducting a credit check for residential tenants or a credit reference for commercial tenants will give you insight into a potential tenant's financial history and stability.
Please note some states have requirements regarding criminal record checks on tenants. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has created guidelines on approaching criminal background checks for housing.
Look to your state and municipal regulations to determine how to use a background check in your screening process.

4. Interview applicants with the best potential

An interview allows you to ensure a potential tenant is a good match. It’s also a good chance for you to ask follow-up questions and check for consistency with the application.
Interviews can be done over the phone, but sometimes, a face-to-face interview promotes clearer and more effective conversation.
Questions to ask potential commercial tenants include:
  • How do you envision the rental space supporting your business operations?
  • Do you see any potential expansion or changes in your business?
  • Can you comply with insurance requirements?
  • How long have you been in business?
Questions for residential tenants include:
  • How do you prefer to handle routine maintenance requests?
  • Who else will be residing in the property with you?
  • What kind of pets do you have?
An important thing to note is that interviews mostly consist of questions finalizing the lease details because you will be in the final stages of screening potential tenants. To wrap the interview up, conclude by asking if the tenant has questions about the property and lease.
LawDepot’s Commercial Rental Application and Residential Rental Application allow you to customize a form for all your potential tenants to complete that complies with state and federal laws.

How do I avoid tenant scams?

Your application process should help you determine who is a safe bet as a tenant, but sometimes, people will try to get the better of landlords. Some essential tips to avoid tenant scams are to:
  • Check for false rental history. Ask landlord references about a tenant's history and cross-reference what they have put on their application. You can also cross- reference old bills as proof of a former address to be sure a tenant has lived where they say they have.
  • Look for false employment records, such as fake pay stubs. Asking for employment references (or a signed Employment Offer Letter) will help you ensure they can meet rent obligations.
Be wary of fake credit reports. Running your own credit check and referencing will ensure you are getting accurate information. Don’t rely on one provided by a potential tenant.

How to choose between two qualified tenant applications

If you find yourself choosing between two strong applications, you can:
  1. Use a first come, first serve basis. This is a standard option that helps avoid discrimination concerns, should they arise in the future. Whoever completes the application first is who you go with as a new tenant.
  2. Base your decision on qualifications. Although the applicants may have much in common, one may have a higher quality application. For instance, they may have good credit scores only a few percentage points apart, but the better score ultimately wins.
Once you decide on a tenant, inform any other applicants the property is no longer available. You don’t have to tell them why you have not gone forward with their application (with the exception of a poor credit report). But, if they ask, it may be best to tell them to avoid further issues.
However you approach your final decision, just remember your final decision cannot be discriminatory in any way.

What should landlords know about tenant applications, screening, and the law?

You’ll need to be familiar with your responsibilities as a landlord throughout the application process.
Generally, residential landlords will have more regulations to follow in comparison to commercial landlords. Take the state of New York, for example. Their legislation for residential rentals consists of laws that protect a tenant by outlining rights regarding rent increases, evictions, and more.
Commercial tenancy laws tend to favor the landlord as the lease agreement sets out a majority of the rights and responsibilities of a tenant. This is because business tenants have more bargaining power, which typically means they need less protection through the law.
During the application process, remember that you must follow the tenancy laws that are in place.

The Fair Housing Act and anti-discrimination laws

Residential landlords must adhere to the Fair Housing Act.
For instance, we’ve already mentioned how your listings, application forms, and interview questions cannot discriminate against protected characteristics (e.g., race, religion, sexuality, gender, disability, etc.).
Examples of what could be considered discriminatory include:
  • Holding one applicant to a higher standard than another based on marital status
  • Asking what an applicant’s first language is or what country they were born in
  • Asking for a higher security deposit for a family over a single occupant
  • Asking an applicant about their sexuality
This legislation also means that landlords must reasonably accommodate a tenant's request to alter the space to suit their needs in some circumstances. For example, a landlord might typically restrict pets but cannot refuse renting to a blind tenant with a seeing-eye dog unless they can prove that doing so was not discriminatory.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is in place for credit checks. According to this act, businesses and applications that collect credit information must keep it private, secure, and dispose of it properly.
Part of this act requires landlords to tell a potential tenant their application was denied due to a poor credit score.Informing an applicant of this reason is also known as an adverse action notice. Telling them allows the applicant to investigate and inform you of any mistakes to appeal your decision.

Create a strong lease agreement

You’re on your way to finding the best tenant for your rental!
So, what do you do once you’ve found them?
Get them moved in with a strong rental agreement put in place. Use LawDepot’s easy questionnaire to create a commercial or residential lease agreement that details both parties’ responsibilities and rights, saving you time while further protecting you as a landlord.