Tips for Properly Screening Tenants

Friday Jan 06th, 2017


Last month we discussed a few ways to help keep some better quality tenants in your units. Now we’re going to talk about how to find the good ones in the first place.

We have been managing property for quite a few years, and I’ve experienced management and leasing of many different styles of units, in different neighbourhoods and price points. What have I learned from all of this? Well of course the tips I’m about to share with you on how to screen tenants, but so much more then that.

What I’ve learned is that people are generally good intentioned, and simply looking for an affordable place to live for them and their families, notwithstanding the few professional tenant/bad apples out there. However, I don’t necessarily want someone who is just a good person in my unit. I want someone who will pay rent, on time, respect the unit and their neighbours, and otherwise not leave me with any messes or headaches to clean up when they leave.

Through proper screening you can learn a lot about people.  Fortunately for you, the numbers are the numbers, and their reputation is their reputation. If you ask them for the right documentation, and speak with the right references, it really doesn’t matter how much their personality won you over, your proper screening will tell the full story you need to hear. So without further adieu, the screening tips:





  1. The Documents to Gather

When screening a new applicant it’s very important to make sure you receive the right documentation.  What’s more important is to make sure you verify that documentation and ensure it is up to date and accurate information. The documents you want to be collecting from a potential tenant are as follows. Income verification, this could be in the form of pay stubs, employment letter, in certain cases I’ve even requested bank statements or T4’s as further confirmation.

However, as I mentioned these documents aren’t worth much without verification.  You want to make sure any pay stubs or bank statements are as current as possible. You’ll also want to phone the current place of employment to confirm they issued the employment letter and confirm the accuracy of its contents.

  1. The References to Check

Now that you’ve made sure the numbers are in order it’s time to check their references. What do people really think of them? Employer is a good place to start, confirming their income is an obvious one. But you could also try and ask for information like their tardiness, what their colleagues think of them etc. You may not get anywhere, but if there are any serious red flags, someone will likely tell you to steer clear.

The next reference to check is their landlords. I typically ask for the current and the previous, fully expecting not to get much valuable information out of the current landlord. The reasons I don’t expect much is simple, there is always a reason this person is moving out of their current unit, and it isn’t always a happy story. It also isn’t always the fault of the tenant. I’ve found the current landlord is very strongly biased in some cases and this is not what you want. Their previous landlord however will almost always give you a full and unbiased story. They’ve been out of their unit for at least a year usually, they aren’t that tenant that is leaving them high and dry anymore etc. So you are far more likely to get a fair opinion of the person from a previous landlord. 

  1. Red Flags

You’ve got all their documents; you’ve called all their references. But what do you do with that information? Well you take a good long look at everything and think to yourself, is this someone I want in my unit? What are you looking for to determine that, well I’ll tell you. First and foremost, did this person lie on any part of their application? Was their income overstated, was the phone number they gave you for the employer someone else. Pro-tip, always look up the employer’s phone number yourself.

What if you had trouble getting things from them in the first place? If they were unwilling to provide you with documents like a credit check, it’s safe to assume they aren’t too happy with their credit, meaning you won’t be either. If they give you pushback on your requirements, imagine the pushback they will give you once they’re living in your house.  Not someone you want.  How about first and last? As a general rule, if a potential tenant is unable to come up with first and last up front, or is trying to make a payment arrangement for their first months rent before they even move-in I’ll pass on that application. They haven’t even taken the keys and they can’t afford the unit, again imagine the trouble once they’re living in your house.



  1. Their Income

You need to make sure your applicants are able to afford making their monthly rent payments. They could have the best intentions in the world, but if the financials aren’t there to back it up they may eventually fail to pay. If they eventually fail to pay you are in a very tough position as a landlord, it will cost you money to evict them. It may bruise the relationship starting the process if you begin the process and then they catch up. But at the same time, making payment arrangements could end up with a higher owing balance before you start the eviction process.  So why not avoid it all together?

 A rule of thumb I use to evaluate whether or not a person will be able to comfortably afford their rent is 30%  of gross or 40% of the net after taxes. This leaves them lots of room for saving and other expenses, and no excuse for missing their rental payments.


  1. Social Media & Online Presence

While it may seem like “creeping” to some, I try and find out as much as I can about a potential tenant through social media.  If they have posted information on a public social profile, it’s free game for a reference/character check.  It’s amazing how much you can tell about a person through their social media profile.  Are they a partier, a gang member, family oriented, or a private quiet person? Just like the other items on this list, a few extra minutes searching here could save you months of headache down the road.


Do you have any other tips you usually use when screening tenants? Do you have questions about a potential candidate, don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments.


Phil Gardner

Director, Property Management

My Capital Corner Team

Post a comment