Let’s say someone applied to live at your rental. This, by the way, is fantastic and awesome. Congratulations! Your next step is to “trust, but verify” what they told you. What you’re essentially saying is that you believe what they wrote on their application, and the next step in the standard process is to validate their application with more information. And as you verify things, you’ll want to do it with interest and discernment (That’s the I & D of The S.O.L.I.D. Screening Method).
Trust, But Verify Everything With Interest and Discernment
Interest: When you read/hear something that’s even slightly off, ask some questions and dig deeper. The magic catch phrase you want to start with is “tell me more.” Then be quiet and listen. You’ll learn all sorts of amazing things. (P.S. This is also a great phrase to use at a social event.)
Discernment: You need to filter through everything you’re learning and determine if this person is actually a responsible tenant. If they share excuses that make you think they may not always pay their rent on time, that’s a red flag. If they share stories on how they clean their apartment and it always looks awesome, that’s a good sign.
Now, there are some specific things that you want to trust, but verify:
Identity: Take a picture of their ID
The first item to verify is their identity. I know it seems crazy that we have to, but identity fraud is a real problem we need to protect ourselves against. Thankfully this part is really easy: get a picture of their ID. More than likely it’ll be their driver’s license, but any form of ID works.
Income: Get a copy of recent pay stubs
The second item is going to be their income. The easiest way to do it is to get a copy of their pay stub. All you do is have them fax it in… No… Not fax…. Who faxes things these days?! No, what you do is have them send, via text message or email, a picture of their pay stub. You can also call their employer and simply ask if they work there. What you’ll find is that people tend to round up their income on the application.
Credit & Background History: Use SmartMove
The other thing you’ll to want to do is verify their credit and background history. The easiest way to do this is to use a third party service that maintains a huge database of information on people (other than Uncle Sam). Usually the companies that offer it recognize that you want to check both the credit and the background, and so they bundle them together. The service we use is TransUnion’s SmartMove. Here’s a link (We do get a small commission if you use their service, at no additional cost to you):
It’s pretty cool the way it works. First, you add your rental information and your applicant’s information. Then SmartMove sends your applicant an email where they verify their identity. You can decide who pays for the service: you or them. We typically have them pay for it. It keeps everyone’s money secure.
Within hours, you’ll get a detailed report back. Not only do you get their credit score, but you also get TransUnion’s full credit report. It’s not from all 3, so it’s not technically everything, but you’ll still get a good idea of their credit and debt.
SmartMove also provides a background check: any criminal violations and evictions. The one we see all the time are traffic tickets, which are not a big deal for us. If anything it confirms that the system actually works, which is nice.
You can also find SmartMove’s link on the resource page.
Rental History: Call previous landlord(s)
The next item is really important: their rental history. The best thing to do is talk to their previous landlord(s). Smaller landlords who only own a few properties, will most likely talk to you over the phone and answer your questions on the spot. For larger places, they’ll require you to email the request. In the S.O.L.I.D. Screening Method guide, I have a form that you can send.
You’ll be looking to verify the information on their application:
- When did they move in/out?
- Did they have any problems?
- Did they pay their rent on time and in full every month?
- Did they damage the unit?
- Did they give proper notice when they moved out?
You know, things that demonstrate they’re a responsible tenant.
A fun question to ask that doesn’t work with the big ones, but definitely works with the small places is, “If you had an opportunity to rent to them again, would you?” You’ll be amazed at the stories you’ll hear.
We had one applicant that was barely passing our screening criteria, which we were OK with, but something seemed off and we couldn’t put our finger on it. We got to the part in the process where it was time to call their landlord. It was a smaller place and so the landlord talked to us over the phone. We asked them the standard questions. And this landlord couldn’t help herself. She said, “Oh my gosh! They have two dogs and they destroyed the place. It was bad. There was urine and fur everywhere. Walls were scratched. They had constant noise issues.” We asked if they would ever rent to them again. “No. Never.” This is why you verify their information and keep digging when something seems off.
Thankfully most conversations don’t go that way, but you do the verification to avoid that ONE tenant who will make your life miserable.
Pets: Play with it to make sure it’s not aggressive or violent
The last thing you’ll do, and is obviously only needed if they have pets (and you allow them), is to do a pet interview. This part is super simple: go play with the cat or dog for a little bit. All you’re trying to do is assess whether or not it’s aggressive or violent. 99% of the time it’s totally fine and actually kind of fun.
Those are things you want to verify.
Trust, But verify is a Critical Step
This is the most critical part you have to get right as a landlord. If you trust everything they say, but don’t verify and something comes up, it’s going to cause you a lot of pain in the future. So it’s really important that you take this step seriously and make sure they represented themselves accurately. If you use the S.O.L.I.D. Screening Criteria and verify that they meet your criteria, the rest of the part of being a landlord is smooth sailing. You truly will minimize your headaches, and as a result, maximize your income.