Cameron Cowan | Knowledge Steward
Every landlord has tenants they love and a few they don’t. Sometimes, to get someone into a property, landlords will lower their standards or try to "work with somebody." It's important to write solid criteria and stick to it. In Seattle, your criteria has to be in your ad (First in Time rules) but it's always a good idea for everyone to be explicit. Often, the tenants will sort themselves out of the application process and you'll have a good group of applicants that fit your criteria. Having clear standards keeps you in compliance with fair housing and helps you run a good business.
Writing good selection criteria is essential for finding the best tenants.
A potential tenant with no criminal record is a good indicator that they lead a fairly structured and sane life that doesn't involve interactions with the law. This indicates that the chances of criminals and criminal behavior in your unit will be at a minimum. In Washington, you'll need to evaluate each person on a case by case basis. Many people have made mistakes in their past and it's up to you to determine if the applicant has sufficiently reintegrated themselves back into society or if the crime has no impact on whether or not they will be a good tenant .
The factors you may want to consider on that are as follows:
Tenants with variable income or unreliable income can leave even the most seasoned landlord with a bit of unease. Usually, at some point, you will end up with late or extremely past due rent. A larger deposit can help but that doesn't help the overall bottom line or stop eviction costs from cutting into profits and cash flow. You have to think about the lost rent from having to move them out and get someone new in. Income verification and a good ratio or flat monthly income that they can prove is essential. For employed people, you can ask for a pay stub or other information. For the self-employed you can ask for the previous year's tax return, profit loss statements from their business or even a bank statement.
A credit score is a great indicator. While it's not the only indicator, it can be an indicator of their personal responsibility. If they can pay their bills on time, you'll get rent on time. If they have had difficulty paying their bills in the past, it may indicate their lack of responsibility which could lead to late rent or even an eviction. It's important to set a credit score in your criteria and stick to it, it’s the one way to give yourself the best chance to have the tenant of your dreams. What score you pick may depend on the price of the rental and other factors.
It’s an old-fashioned concept but basic respect is an important part of getting and keeping a quality tenant. Most every landlord horror story begins and ends with "they just had no respect for other people." The best way to weed out this kind of tenant is to call their previous rental references or their personal references and see what they say. If someone is a first-time renter, you can call their employer or other references. Respect is also shown in the process. Did they arrive to a showing on time? Did they fill out the entire application and all requested documentation? Are they responsive in their communication? Sometimes, it's the little things that are important in a business relationship. It is important to note that in Seattle, “gut instinct” or “gut feeling” is not a valid business reason to refuse tenancy. Many landlords have relied on this for decades and the City of Seattle has determined that is not a valid way to judge tenants. There must be a verifiable reason for the refusal.
Weeding out bad tenants is as easy as writing good criteria and then sticking to it. Having an open and fair process ensures you have a good group of applicants to choose from. Screening your applicants through RHAWA's Tenant Screening department is a good way to determine the best applicant for you. Tenant Screening through RHAWA affords you background checks that include a full credit report, criminal background and employment verification.