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Whether you’re a new landlord or have a long history of working with rental properties, choosing from a large pool of prospective tenants can be a daunting task. Thankfully, there is a process for choosing a tenant which works nearly 100% of the time.

Initial Application and Screening Process

Before you start your search, make a list of requirements to show applicants when they make an inquiry. This may include items like a general background check, credit screening, employment and income verification, and rental history. Because some tenants won’t sign these documents or meet the necessary requirements, you’ll get a jump-start culling down the pile of applications you’re sure to receive.

Red Flags

As you’re interviewing candidates and verifying their credentials, you should pay attention to their personalities and behaviors. There are a few things to watch for which may indicate a potentially problematic tenant.

1. Tardiness. If the applicant is late to appointments or turns in paperwork past the requested date, you should consider this a bad sign of things to come. While it’s true that many people are late occasionally, making a habit of tardiness is a character flaw. Renters like this may also make a habit of late payments or fail to keep up with maintenance schedules on the rental.

2. Excuses. If the prospective tenant is telling you a sob story full of excuses about a past landlord, you should cross him off your list. Even if the story is true—and it might be—it’s unprofessional to relay this information to a possible new landlord. You don’t want to deal with a difficult tenant and become another one of their tales of woe.

But that is unless you are the one who will inquire about past troubles in the first place, which is also a good practice, to actually get an idea of how the tenant deals with his landlord. Does he give the facts and also his part that led to the issue, or is it just about a blame-the-landlord kind of thing? How trivial or serious was the problem? Did it get settled and how? Was it just a one-time thing or did he get into more trouble? Has he had any troubles with other past landlords as well?

Tenants and landlords do get into misunderstandings once in a while, but if your applicant seems to attract problems quite often, that is not a good sign. Let this one go and you’ll be happier about it.

3. Little information. In a large pile of applicants, it’s likely you’ll receive a few forms with limited history or personal information. You should steer clear of these applicants, because it’s possible they’re lying by omission. Young people or recent college graduates may have little rental experience, but a sparse application is usually a sign that the person has something to hide.

If you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, ask them about the blanks or missing information. It’s possible they overlooked the questions as they were filling out the forms. But if they have no reason for their lack of personal history, you should probably look elsewhere for a future tenant.

Final Selection

Now that you’ve narrowed down your pool of tenants to just a few applicants, it’s time to make a final selection. There are a few ways to choose the lucky tenant.

1. Strength of application. If one applicant stands apart from the rest, you can simply choose that one. There’s nothing wrong with going with your gut instinct, as long as you’re not breaking discrimination laws.

2. Order of reception. If several tenants have met your requirements, and there’s no way to set one apart, you should choose the one who applied first. This is the fairest and easiest way to decide, and the other tenants will surely agree.

3. Offer it to a few applicants. If the above methods won’t work, for whatever reason, you can make a fair decision by offering the unit to the first applicant who accepts. Contact all applicants within the same time frame (email works well for this), then set the requirements for acceptance. For example, it could be the first tenant who shows up with a deposit check and signs a lease or the first one who responds to your offer. This method isn’t recommended if you have a lot of applicants, but it works well when you’ve narrowed it down to five or less.