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Be sure all potential tenants sign the Rental Application, authorizing you to verify the information and references and to run a credit report.

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Some employers and others require written authorization before they will talk to you. When you talk to prospective tenants, stick to questions on the application. See Chapter 5 for details on antidiscrimination laws. Except in California Cal. Department of Homeland Security. This form and instructions for completing it are available at www. Some people who have the right to be in the United States, such as some students and other temporary visa holders, may not have the right to work, which is the focus of the I-9 form.

To confirm their right to be in the U. Under federal fair housing laws, you may not selectively ask for such immigration information—that is, you must ask all prospective tenants, not just those you suspect may be in the country illegally. Landlords are often faced with anxious, sometimes desperate people who need a place to live immediately. Taking the time to screen out bad tenants will save you lots of problems later on. Never, never let anyone stay in your property on a temporary basis.

If an application looks good, your next step is to follow up thoroughly. You risk a charge of illegal discrimination if you screen certain categories of applicants more stringently than others. Here are six steps of a very thorough screening process. Always call current and previous landlords or managers for references—even if you have a written letter of reference from them.

A prior landlord may be a better source of information than a current one, since a past landlord has no motive to give a falsely glowing report on a troublemaker. Also call employers and personal references listed on the application. To organize the information you gather from these calls, use the Tenant References form, which lists key questions to ask landlords, managers, and other references. A sample is shown below and the Nolo website includes a downloadable copy. TIP Check out pets, too. If the prospective tenant has a dog or cat, be sure to ask previous landlords if the pet caused any damage or problems for other tenants or neighbors.

You must, however, accommodate a mentally or physically disabled applicant whose pet serves as a support animal—no matter how mangy-looking the pet might be. For more information on renting to tenants with pets, see Chapter 2, Clause Be sure to take notes of all your conversations and keep them on file. You may note your reasons for refusing an individual on the Tenant References form—for example, negative credit information, insufficient income, or your inability to verify information.

Occasionally, you may encounter a former landlord who is unwilling to provide key information. This reluctance may have nothing to do with the prospective tenant, but instead reflects an exaggerated fear of lawsuits. Still, most landlords do not understand this fine point of law, and many will be reluctant to be candid. Obviously, you want to make sure that all tenants have the income to pay the rent each month. Make notes on the Tenant References form, discussed above.

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Before providing this information, some employers require written authorization from the employee. You will need to mail or fax them a signed copy of the release included at the bottom of the Rental Application form or the separate Consent to Contact References and Perform Credit Check form shown above. If for any reason you question the income information you get by telephone—for example, you suspect a buddy of the applicant is exaggerating on his behalf—you may also ask applicants for copies of recent paycheck stubs. TIP How much income is enough?

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Think twice before renting to someone if the rent will take more than one-third of their income, especially if they have a lot of debts. Private credit reporting agencies collect and sell credit files and other information about consumers.

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Jot your findings down on the Tenant References form. Because many people think that you must have their written consent before pulling a credit report to evaluate a prospective tenant, we have included it in our consent forms at the end of the Rental Application and in the separate Consent to Contact References and Perform Credit Check form. For example, you may want to consult a current report in order to help you decide whether to sue a tenant who has skipped out and owes rent. A credit report contains a gold mine of information for a prospective landlord.

You can find out, for example, if a particular person has ever filed for bankruptcy or has been:. This number, ranging from to , purports to indicate the risk that an individual will default on payments.


High credit scores indicate less risk. Generally, any score above is considered a medium risk or less. Information covers the past seven to ten years. Three credit bureaus have cornered the market on credit reports:. Fees depend on how many reports you order each month. If you do not rent to someone because of negative information in a credit report, or you charge someone a higher rent because of such information, you must give the prospective tenant the name and address of the agency that reported the negative information.

This is a requirement of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Tenants who are applying for more than one rental are understandably dismayed at the prospect of paying each landlord to pull the same credit report. They may obtain their own report, make copies, and ask you to accept their copy. Wisconsin and Washington are exceptions: State law in Wisconsin forbids landlords from charging for a credit report if, before the landlord asks for a report, the applicant offers one from a consumer reporting agency and the report is less than 30 days old. Code ATCP And in Washington, landlords must advise tenants whether they will accept a screening report done by a consumer reporting agency in which case you may not charge the tenant a fee for a screening report.

Landlords who maintain a website that advertises residential rentals must include this information on the home page. Code Ann. California state law limits credit check or application screening fees you can charge prospective tenants and specifies what you must do when accepting these types of fees.

Here are key provisions of the law:. You may charge a screening fee whose maximum is regulated by law Cal. If you spend less for the credit report and your time than the screening fee you collected, you must refund the difference.

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If you never get a credit report or check references on an applicant, you must refund the entire screening fee. Unless the applicant agrees in writing, you may not charge a screening fee if no rental unit is available. You must provide an itemized receipt when you collect an application screening fee. A sample receipt is shown below. However, consumers can arrange for certain persons—such as a landlord or management company—to access their report; or the freeze itself can be suspended for a specified period of time.

An applicant who fails to lift a freeze will have an incomplete application, which is grounds for rejecting that application. California sets a maximum screening fee and requires landlords to provide an itemized receipt when accepting a credit check fee. For low-end units, charging an extra fee can be a barrier to getting tenants in the first place, and a tenant who pays such a fee but is later rejected is likely to be annoyed and possibly more apt to try to concoct a discriminatory reason for the denial.

The Rental Application form in this book informs prospective tenants of your credit check fee. Be sure prospective tenants know the purpose of a credit check fee and understand that this fee is not a holding deposit and does not guarantee the rental unit. We discuss holding deposits below. You must also tell the applicant that more information about the nature and scope of the report will be provided upon request; and, if asked, you must provide this information within five days.

Transunion, one of the three major credit reporting companies, has come up with a creative way for landlords to obtain screening reports without having to use a credit reporting agency SmartMove, www. Importantly, SSNs are not revealed to the landlord.

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Either the landlord or the applicant can pay for the service. Applicants whose landlords will accept the SmartMove report initiate the screening process by filling out an application to generate a report. The report contains a recommendation on whether to rent to this applicant, based on credit, criminal, and eviction history. For a bit more money, landlords can ask for a credit score, too. Using SmartMove has its pros and cons.