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- I’ve had a great tenant for the last several years but that almost wasn’t the case.
- I set up strict criteria for applicants but nearly rented to someone who didn’t measure up because I liked them personally.
- Taking my emotions out of the decision made all the difference.
The night I listed my first rental for tenant applicants, I went to bed with a nervous buzz. I had posted the home on Craigslist and Facebook, and I was excited to see whether I had any interest the next morning.
I was stunned when I woke up to dozens of messages and emails. Right away, I knew I would have to be judicious about selecting tenants. I sent everyone who had contacted me the link to a Google form, with basic questions about their income, criminal background, and pets. From there, I selected a few people for showings.
One potential renter stood out. She was very interested, but she had inconsistent employment and a pet that didn’t meet my listed criteria. Still, she seemed genuine, and I connected personally, so I was leaning toward having her sign a lease.
Then, at the last minute, I had another applicant: someone who was fully qualified and met all my criteria — a steady, verifiable job, no dog, and no major convictions. He asked if I would hold the apartment a day or so until he could come for a showing. I did, and ultimately ended up renting to that person. He’s now rented from me for more than three years, and been an ideal tenant the whole time. And I’ve learned a bit about being selective as a landlord.
I had to take my emotions out of the decision
When my husband and I were considering renting out our home, everyone told us horror stories. The neighbor’s uncle rented to college kids who swung from the light fixtures, and our mailman’s cousin had to evict renters who didn’t pay for months.
The stories were extreme and had to be at least partially fiction, but they underscored an important message: My renters were going to make or break this landlord experiment.
Good tenants — who respected the property and paid on time — would increase my profits. Bad tenants — the type who were constantly causing damage, asking to pay late, or breaking their lease — would cost us money and cause stress.
With that in mind, I told the first applicant no. She seemed nice, but nice wasn’t going to pay the rent or the insurance increases from having a dog on the property. Instead, I chose the applicant who checked all the boxes. This was a business transaction, and I had to take my emotions out of it.
Clearly defining my rental criteria was key to making a smart, fair choice
Since then, I’ve become a lurker in landlord social media groups and listened to podcasts for landlords. It turns out, selecting tenants is complex.
Fair housing laws protect people based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. That means, for example, you can’t choose not to rent to a family with kids simply because kids increase the risk for damage.
Because of that, it’s so important to have clearly defined rental criteria in your ads, including items like a minimum verifiable income and photo ID. From there, it’s best to take the first qualified applicant, to avoid intentional or unintentional discrimination.
I was lucky that in my case the options were clear: I could bend my criteria for one applicant, or select the person who met all the criteria. I’ll never know how it would have gone with the first applicant, but my current tenant has been a joy, and made my foray into having a rental a success.