If you are a landlord with a house or apartment to rent, you must be very careful in terms of who you select as a tenant. If an applicant claims that he is a first time renter, don’t take that claim at face value. You’ll have to do some work in order to determine if renting your property out to him is a prudent decision.

What to Require of a First Time Renter

While a first time renter won’t be able to provide references from past landlords, he should be able to provide the names and contact information of someone who can vouch for him.

If he’s employed, have his employer write him a letter of recommendation in which the amount of money he earns is stated, as well as how many hours per week he works and how long he has been with the company. Some of these may be considered too confidential but, at least, the employer should vouch that the potential tenant can pay his rent. You may call the applicant’s workplace yourself to verify that he actually works there. Do check if it is the correct number and not a bogus one where a fake employee waits for your call. Also, you can ask the applicant to provide you with a recent pay stub to prove that he really is employed and to show that his level of income is sufficient to pay rent.

If the applicant is a student and doesn’t have a source of income, ask him for references from prior part-time jobs or from teachers in school. No matter what, you need someone to testify to the individual’s character and sense of responsibility. You don’t want to rent out your property to someone who is careless and destructive.
Require that the applicant pay not only the first month of rent and a matching security deposit, but also the last month’s rent. If he questions why, explain that the burden of proof is on him for someone who hasn’t rented a living space in the past represents a risk for any landlord. Requiring the deposit and an extra month of rent acts as a sort of insurance in case the tenant skips out on the lease before it is scheduled to end. Perhaps you can require twice the amount of the normal security deposit instead of asking for the last month’s rent upfront.

Finally, draft a lease stating that the tenant’s security deposit and last month’s rent will not be refundable until he completes the full length of the lease; he must show that the property is in the same condition as when he has moved in. State in the lease that the paid last month’s rent will be used in place of the actual final month’s rent payment, that is, as long as the tenant pays on time up until that final month.

Conduct a Background Check

While a credit check might not reveal much about someone who hasn’t rented or someone who is merely a college student, a background check will tell you a lot about him.

By running a background check, you’ll be able to determine if the applicant is telling the truth about his prior living arrangements. There are even services that will tell you the exact addresses of individuals over the past decade or so.

The background check will reveal information regarding the applicant’s criminal history, if any. This will help you get a better sense of his character. Many landlords refuse to rent their property to individuals with felonies and those who have spent time in jail as they may pose possible dangers to fellow tenants and the property itself. Simply put, an individual’s past behavior is the best reference when it comes to determining what his future behavior might be. Do mind that there are also laws to consider when screening tenants.

Business is business. But in order to protect it, you must always take precautions. Whether you do the screening yourself or hire a background check company, either would be very helpful for landlords like you. It may mean more effort or more money to shell out on your part, but always remember: It is always better to be safe than sorry.