Tenant Screening Process Plays an Important Role in
Under New Jersey’s Anti-Eviction act it can be very difficult to evict the tenant. Careful tenant selection eliminates problems before they begin.
Tenant screening done the right way helps avoid troubles down the road. It can also help with subsequent enforcement actions should things go south. When meeting a prospective tenant the landlord should always take an application if he/she is interested in leasing to the prospect. There are many forms available. Get rental application form right here by clicking the link.
Tenant Screening Application
The application you use should identify the prospect and social security number, his current residence and landlord. It should require employment history, sources and amounts of income, previous rental and landlord history.
There should also be questions about:
- prior tenant’s landlord
- civil and criminal matters
- family and non-family references, including contact information
- banking information
As a landlord, it is important for you to completely check all the information provided in the application. Watch out for blank spaces on returned applications. If a prospective tenant leaves an area in the application blank, it’s a warning sign.
I will give you an example from my landlord-tenant practice. I do property management for some of my clients. I showed an apartment to a nice looking family and took the application. After the family left the building, I started checking the information on the application. One of the first things I do, is call the current landlord and the prior landlords. The phone number for the current landlord was not legible. I called the prospective tenant and explained the situation. The tenant gave me the landlord’s number. In re-examining the application, I noticed that the landlord’s phone number was the prospective tenant’s phone number. I did call the number and left a message pointing out what I noticed. The woman called back and tried to disguise her voice. That application was not accepted. I saved my clients time, heartache and money.
Make credit checks when possible and vet all the information in the application. The application should include permission to verify the information. Ask the prospective tenant to certify the information provided. Make sure that all information requested is provided. It is in the interests of both parties to see that it’s done. If the tenant does not answer certain inquiries, it raises questions.
You may charge a fee to do the credit check and verify the information in the application. This check is very important.
Each tenant needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some tenants through no fault of their own have bad information on their background. The key is to see if the tenant is honest on the application about the derogatory information. Did the tenant reveal it to you on the application, or was the information a surprise? Why did the tenant end up having this information?
Another example from my practice is a current tenant in another building that I manage. The woman looked responsible and conscientious. She works at as a nurse at a local health care facility. She had warned me in advance that her credit record was going to look terrible because her husband abandoned her and stole her identity. He used her identity to get credit cards. He ran up a debt. Her background check revealed poor credit history. I disregarded the poor credit history given the fact that she revealed it upfront. It has turned out to be a good decision.
New Jersey law does not allow landlords to consider race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, or legal source of income as a basis for making a decision. To use any of these factors as a basis for a rental denial leaves the landlord open to a law suit under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. In addition, landlords must be consistent in what they require from prospective tenants. If you’re going to run a background check against one tenant, you need to run them against all prospective tenants.