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Tenant Screening Checklist

Immediate Rent got an email from Brent Lowry (British Columbia), during many years of being a landlord he created "Tenant Screening Checklist". Everytime the situation arised he updates his checklist, which allow him avoid many potential issues such as stress and financial losses.

With Brent's permison, Immediate Rent sharing his checklist. All questions and comments are very welcome. Please read till the end. If you have your own story/advice you would like to share please Contact Us

Screening is the most important skill

Screening is the most important skill that a landlord must learn to be successful. If you don't screen your tenants thoroughly, you will, sooner, or later, end up with the tenants from hell. It will be very costly. Damages, lost rent, and bailiffs are expensive.

There are a lot of bad tenants using fake references, such as friends or family, to pose as landlords. Make sure the references you are calling, are actually real landlords, and not a fake reference. The way to check this is, that when you call the reference, ask about the suite or house they have for rent. If they don't know what you are talking about, it is likely a scam reference. Google the phone number to see if it matches the name.

If they say the place has already been rented or they have a place for rent, they are more likely to be legitimate. Ask for the full address, incl postal code. Ask what color the house is. Google search the address. Drive by their current residence to check the state of the yard, etc. If the yard is full of garbage, junk cars, uncut grass, and dog poop, your home will be too, if you rent to them.

Check at least 2 or 3 landlord references, as the last landlord may say anything just to get rid of them. Personal references are useless, their friends won't say anything bad about them. If the tenant says they have no landlord references, because they just sold their home, ask for proof. If you can not verify home ownership, or their past landlord references, do not rent to them!

Never give keys, before ....

Do not accept cheques for any of the above, because the tenant can stop payment after they move in, and it will take you months to get them out. Even allowing them to move in a few boxes early, gives them possession under the RTA, even if they have not paid any money, or given an NSF cheque.

Always get their middle name, and do both criminal, and civil, CSO searches. Ask to see a copy of their drivers license, to prove they are who they say they are. If they refuse, they have something to hide. Don't rent to them. Do Google and Facebook searches. Check for smoking, parties, drug usage, bad language, attitude. See who their friends are, because these are the people who will be coming to your property as guests.

Never give a reason for not renting to anybody, as this can put you at risk of a human rights claim. If you decide not to rent to somebody, and the applicant asks about their application, you can only say you are still reviewing applications, or that you have decided to go in a different direction. Be deliberately vague. Do not give them any reason to file a legal complaint against you for discrimination.

Never include the utilities in the rent

Never, ever, include the utilities in the rent. This is a major mistake. Instead, as per the BC RTB, charge a percentage, based on how much floor space their suite occupies in the building. If you include utilities, the tenants regard utilities as “free”, or something that they are paying for, and so feel the need to get their monies worth by using as much as they can. They will leave doors and windows open in the winter, with the heat turned as high as possible. They will invite other people to do their laundry. They may even invite a few “friends” to move in.

Worse yet, if you rent to “professional” and/or vindictive tenants, they will waste as much heat and electricity as possible, by plugging in multiple electric heaters, with the windows open of course. They will also run water taps continuously, so they can inflate expenses as much as they can, for the unwitting landlord who included utilities.

Years ago, when I stopped including utilities, within 2 months, the utility bills dropped by half. When tenants have to pay for their own consumption, they suddenly stop wasting power and water. Since the government is only allowing landlords to increase rents by approximately 2% per year, or not at all, and utilities are increasing much faster than this, utility bills can put a landlord into a negative cash flow position. By including these costs in the rent, you are limiting your compensation to 2% or nothing at all, while the actual increase in costs can be 10% or more. With long term tenants, the rising cost of utilities, and government limits on rent increases, the loss becomes greater every year. If you don't include utilities, any government increase in the cost of utilities, gets immediately passed onto the tenant, instead of you.

As per the RTB, charge each tenancy a %, based on the size of their space, in relation to the total building size. Do not charge by the number of occupants for utilities. You can however, charge extra rent for extra occupants, but only if you included that in your addendum.

Red Flags

Any applicants with a sob story, raise an immediate red flag. Usually they have a poor rental history, and so have to resort to getting their next victim by playing the sympathy card. These types will try and tell you their life story, whether you want to hear it or not. You don't want a tenants problems becoming your problems. Avoid them at all costs

The other type of tenant to avoid, is those that talk down about their current rental and/or landlord. Red flag! They rented the place willingly, maybe because nobody else would rent to them, and are now looking for their next victim. They will soon be saying the same things about you. Don't be that person. Run! Nobody needs the drama in their life, that these types of tenants bring.

Previous Landlord References

Ask questions and compare answers. What property do you have for rent?
Location? How many bedrooms and bathrooms?
When did he/she rent from you? How long did this person live in the rental?
Did he/she pay the rent and utilities, on time, every time? Did they have any pets? Did they clean up after their pets?
Were there any complaints from other Tenants? Noise complaints? Parties?
Were there any unauthorized occupants? Unauthorized business? Were there any unauthorized vehicles, or parking issues?
Were they clean? Did they take care of the yard? Are they smokers? Vapers? Tobacco? Cannabis? Drugs? Did they smoke in the home?
Was there any damage besides normal wear and tear? Was the tenant respectful to you and the property?
Did the Tenant give you proper notice to end the tenancy?
Would you rent to this Tenant again?

Employer References

Google search the phone number to be sure you are talking to their employer. When did the employee start work? What is their position? Are they full time or part time? Seasonal? How many hours per week? Is this a temporary or permanent position? What is their current wage? (Check against the application and pay stubs)

Credit and Background Check

Do not ask a tenant to provide a credit report, as more and more cases when provided credit reports are fake. Search for avaialbe online information:
Search Traffic/Criminal By Participant Name in BC
Search Civil By Party Name in BC

Similar websites are available for the other provinces, for doing background checks on those tenants moving from another province.

Tenant insurance

All your tenants should have Tenant insurance. You should have a copy of the policy. With an online insurance provider like Square One, your tenant can get a personalized tenant insurance quote in as little as 5 minutes. Tenant insurance policies from Square One start at as little as $12/month and you get $20 immediate discount.

See also: Why tenants need tenant's insurance? | Get $20 off your quote

See also: Why landlords should do credit and background check?

See also: Rent Guarantee program – what you have to know?

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of Immedaite Rent. If you have any questions or comments please Contact Us Immediate Rent.