May 8, 2021

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How to Screen Tenants When Renting Out Your Home

Photo: Peathegee Inc (Getty Images) Renting out your home can bring in some extra cash,...

Photo: Peathegee Inc (Getty Images)

Renting out your home can bring in some extra cash, but doing so places you into the role of landlord. Aside from legal obligations to consider beforehand, having a proper vetting process will help save you from the hassle of bad tenants or even potential lawsuits. Here are some tips that can help.

Know you state’s landlord-tenant laws

Start with your state’s tenant laws, which will have its own standard for upkeep and habitation requirements, rules on rent increases, limits on security deposits, and lease termination qualifications. (You’ll also want to ensure that you’re acquainted with federal anti-discrimination protections, too).

There’s a lot of variation state-by-state: for example, most states require the landlord to provide heating, but others also require air conditioning to be provided. As a rule of thumb, assume your tenant always has a copy of the your state’s landlord-tenant law and manage your property accordingly.

Get a background check

As a landlord, you have the right to request a criminal background and credit check from any prospective tenant. A bunch of sites provide this service, like RentPrep, SmartMove, and MyRental. You don’t have to do that, however: another screening option is to ask for proof of employment and recent pay stubs.

Interview prospective tenants 

Treat the initial tenant interview like a job interview. If you’re just renting out a room, your tenant might become a roommate whom you interact with every day, but you’ll want to maintain an ongoing professional distance out of respect to the tenant. The goal of the interview is to understand how reliable they will be when it comes to paying rent. Don’t ask questions that would be unintentionally discriminatory, like how old they are or anything else that needlessly invades their privacy. Zillow has a good list of questions that you can use.

Write a rental agreement 

A rental agreement puts everything about your rental arrangement into writing: the names of the parties involved, payment terms, payment of utilities, length of rental term (usually month-to-month), maintenance policies, and your rights to enter the rental unit (often 24 hours notice).

You can also lay down some rules for the house that will cover pets, smoking, overnight guests, and the use of common areas (if you’re sharing the property). To protect yourself from liability later, you should also have a rule against illegal activity in the house. Make sure these rules are compliant by consulting the landlord-tenant act in your state, or if you’re being careful, through a lawyer. You can Google all sorts of free rental agreement templates that you can use, or visit sites that will custom-build your rental agreement for a price, like Law Depot.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst 

Picture a nightmare tenant and try to include as many conditions in your rental agreement which will mitigate potential problems, including noise, messiness, and damage to your property. Before the tenant moves in, agree to a dispute resolution policy that you can point back to later (the legal site Nolo has some good suggestions for both landlords and tenants, including the use of mediation services). You aren’t looking to make your tenant’s life miserable, but you want to protect yourself, too.



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