How to Screen Tenants Without a Credit History

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Tenant Screening

Whether you’re a landlord in a college town or you’re noticing an uptick in applicants without much credit history, there are still ways you can decipher between an ideal tenant and one who may not be as reliable without analyzing their credit history. 

Set Your Tenant Criteria 

The first and most important thing you need to do as a landlord is to think through what your ideal tenant would be. Of course, you cannot violate anything under The Fair Housing Act. But some things you may consider setting in your criteria include:

  • Proof of income
  • Past landlord contact info
  • The requirement of a cosigner if they don’t have proof of income or a past landlord
  • Lifestyle requirements (pets and smoking, for example)
  • Background check

Include Requirements in the Rental Listing

Next, we recommend including a few lines in your rental listing that clearly explain the expectations for tenants who may be interested in applying. One example of this may be, “All applicants are required to show proof of income, provide past landlord contact information (if applicable), and pay a $45 application fee.”

Doing this shows potential tenants from the get-go that you are transparent and professional. High-quality tenants will see it as a good thing that their potential landlord takes screening seriously. They will probably also assume if you are a thorough tenant screener, then you must take good care of the property and would be easy to work with. It’s a win for both parties.

Ask Questions and Get to Know Applicants

Additionally, for tenants who don’t have much credit history (or even for those who do), you can perform a screening call or ask them specific questions to get to know them a bit better during the initial showing of the property or via email. You can ask them questions like:

  • What is your monthly income?
  • What is your ideal move-in date?
  • Why are you moving? What is your current living situation?
  • Can I ask for references from your former landlords and/or your employer?
  • Will you be using a cosigner?
  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Will you have roommates?
  • What is your job situation?

Asking these types of questions can help you, as the landlord, understand the larger picture. Someone who is in their first or second year of college may not look great on paper and may not have professional references, but if they are given the chance to explain their situation, they may turn out to be a reliable tenant you can count on for several years. 

Screening tip: An alternative to a past landlord reference could be a coach, mentor or professor of the applicant, their boss at a part-time job, or anyone else who can speak to the person’s reliability. Just avoid using family members as references.

Analyze and Decide

Once you have gathered all of the necessary pieces to make an educated decision on whether to accept or deny a tenant, be sure to look at the full picture. The applicant may not have a large amount of income because they are in college full-time, but they might have a cosigner willing to take the fall for them if they don’t pay rent on time.

When it comes to analyzing the applicant’s background check, it is completely up to you, as the landlord, whether to weigh some items on an individual’s background check heavier than others. It comes down to what you are comfortable with as a landlord. Again, you want to be sure you are not violating anything under The Fair Housing Act. And you definitely want to avoid all renter scams.

Once you have made a decision, be sure to accept your first choice tenant(s) before rejecting other applicants. That way, if your first choice falls through you will have backups. This will also help you avoid a rental vacancy.

If you follow the steps listed above, you will be well on your way to choosing the right tenants for your property. And if you’d like some help along the way, check out Avail to help you find and screen quality tenants, produce state-specific leases, collect rent payments, track maintenance projects, and more.