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Mistakes To Avoid When Screening A Tenant

Hello, property and potential property owners! Welcome to the RPM Distinguished Care blog, where we provide practical advice about property management! If you’re a return visitor, welcome back. We sincerely appreciate your support! RPM Distinguished Care specializes in managing successful rental properties in and around the Charleston area. We’re here to make your lives easier by giving you the resources you need to maximize profitability and have a successful rental property. We provide comprehensive property management services at every possible level. From advertising and marketing, to responding to applications, to inspecting and maintaining properties–there’s nothing we do not do. Further, we ensure tenant compliance, handle necessary evictions, and report directly back to you about revenue and profit potentials. We aim to make owning rental property as easy for you as possible, for as little money as possible. Check out the rest of our site to meet our team and discover what makes RPM Distinguished Care the best property management company in Charleston!


In our last post, we talked about how to renovate your rental property on a budget. Sometimes, you may be on a strict budget, or renovations may feel near impossible with the costs of materials on the rise. Luckily, there are ways that you can give your property an upgrade without breaking the bank. We discussed repainting, upgrading lighting, boosting curb appeal, and more. If you are interested in learning more about how you can renovate on a budget, check out our last post!


Today, we’ll be discussing mistakes to avoid when screening a tenant. Tenant screening is one of the most crucial parts of owning and renting property. After all, property owners want a good tenant: This is someone with a stable income, a good record of financial responsibility, and a willingness to care for the property, among other things. Tenant screenings give you an idea of the kind of tenant an applicant will be by giving you some insight into their finances and how responsible they are with their money. Additionally, it verifies the tenant’s credibility and provides a layer of protection for you and your rental property. While the screening process may appear pretty straightforward, there are a few common mistakes that are made. But don’t worry– We’re here to tell you all you need to know! If you’re interested in learning about mistakes you should avoid when screening a tenant, you’re in the right place. Let’s get right into it!

1. Not screening every tenant. 


This may seem like an obvious mistake, but it is one that property owners tend to overlook, especially if they have a large pool of applicants. Sometimes, there is a tendency to only screen tenants that they are skeptical about. This is not a good approach, and can actually be unfair– You are judging a book by its cover, so to speak. In the same manner that you may assume someone would make a “bad” tenant, you cannot assume that a put-together person with a nice car will make a “good” tenant. Therefore, you need to be screening every single applicant. (And yes, that includes the ones recommended by family or friends.) You may also consider taking the time to screen every person who plans to live in your rental property. For example, if three adults are planning to live on the property, you should screen all three of them, not just the head of household. It is also worth noting that screening every applicant equally, regardless of your initial thoughts on them, complies with the Federal Fair Housing Laws.


2. Not having pre-screening questions.


If you have multiple properties and a lot of applications to sift through, it can be far too time-consuming to meet with or conduct a phone interview with every single one of them. Instead, put together a list of pre-screening questions and attach them to the rental application. This can help you save time by weeding out applicants who may not be a good fit, and ensuring that the right applicants get through. For example, you can ask when the tenant is looking to move. If you are looking to fill a vacancy in the next few weeks, but the tenant writes that they plan to move in a few months, they might not be the best fit. Pre-screening questions provide an opportunity to find out what a potential tenant is looking for, and whether that aligns with what you have to offer. Once you read over their questionnaire and screen them, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not they are the right tenant for you, and then you can move forward with the process!


3. Skipping the background check.


Many landlords or property managers focus entirely on a potential tenant’s ability to pay the rent. While this is, of course, an incredibly important ability to have, solely doing a credit check does not give you all the information you need. A background check allows you to see whether or not an applicant has a serious criminal record. In some instances, a serious criminal record can put your other tenants at risk. It is important to note that it is illegal to use arrest records for tenant screening purposes. As many as 100 million U.S. adults have a criminal record, and as a result, many of these individuals face barriers when it comes to finding housing. With that being said, you should only consider crimes that can put your property, neighborhood, and other tenants in danger. 


4. Failing to check references.


If you ask for references on an application, but don’t follow up on them, they’re not doing you any good. These references allow you another opportunity to verify that the information an applicant is providing you with is correct. These references should include current employers and previous landlords. Checking with the references listed can give you the most accurate and up-to-date information on a prospective tenant, and can give you insight into whether or not the tenant lied about when they lived at a previous property– This may be a red flag. Here are some examples of questions you may ask of references:


  • What is the address of the property? 
  • How long was the tenancy?
  • Did the tenant consistently pay rent on time?
  • Were there any major damages to the property?
  • Were there any complaints from neighbors/other tenants? 
  • Why did the tenant leave? 
  • Can you confirm that the tenant is employed at this company?
  • How do you like working with the tenant?


Simple questions like this can help give you a better idea of the type of person a potential tenant is, and this can save you trouble down the road.


5. Not following local housing laws.


It is important to be aware of local housing laws before conducting tenant screenings. Different states may have different screening laws and procedures. For example, South Carolina does not limit the amount that landlords can charge for an application fee. Application fees are also non-refundable and are not part of the security deposit. With that being said, remember that prospective tenants may skip over rentals with high application fees. Additionally, you can only run a background check on someone if they have consented to do so. A potential tenant must agree to this when filling out the rental application and/or pre-screening questions. If the applicant does not say “yes” to a background check, you may not legally conduct one.


These are just a few of the mistakes you should avoid when screening a tenant. Tenant screening can be a long and tedious process, but it is important that you do it thoroughly. Don’t be lazy– This can compromise your property! We hope you found this article helpful. If you are a rental property owner looking for assistance in managing your property, feel free to reach out to us! RPM Distinguished Care specializes in residential property management and offers a range of services including communication, marketing, and advertising, thorough tenant screening and selection, full-service leasing, timely rent collection, regular evaluations, cost-effective and reliable maintenance, strict and compliant evictions, and comprehensive accounting. We utilize an online portal for owners to keep track of their property, including access to reports and financial statements. With over 30 years of experience, we know how to keep your property at its best. We believe in full-service and comprehensive property management. That’s why we take the time to understand each of our clients and help identify their most closely-held goals. Let us give you peace of mind that your property is in good hands. Use our website to request your free assessment and meet with our expert team! Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we hope to hear from you soon! See you next time!


We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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