The Art of Tenant Selection
This is a column by our resident real estate expert Rachelle.
I have been renting properties in the GTA since about 1997. Here are my hints and tips for selecting the best tenants.
In our current market, if your place isn’t priced properly or is in bad condition you can look forward to bad tenants or periods of vacancy.
Today internet shopping has reached a new level and before people even come to see your apartment they have already shopped it for price, location and appearance. People used to take the first place they could find and now they’ll see many places before they make that buying decision.
As landlords we are competing for the best renters and with tenancy laws being the way they are, it is absolutely crucial to rent to good tenants. A bad decision will cost you 4 month’s rent or more in Ontario, plus any renovations that might be required after they move out. Even more importantly perhaps, the trauma inflicted by the experience of a deadbeat tenant is enough to scar people for life.
What Characteristics Do I Look For?
The selection process is absolutely crucial to weeding out the bad apples and moving the good apples into your place. From the moment I answer the phone I am evaluating the prospect and you should be too.
In my case I often have to “fit” the tenant to the landlord. There is more to a great tenant than paying the rent, especially in homes shared with the owner. Even with multiple tenants evaluating the customs and lifestyle of the building is essential to the landlord’s peace of mind. Tenants with different lifestyles may clash and then expect the landlord to mediate.
Here is my list of desirable characteristics. People who possess these characteristics make superior renters.
- Organization: I like the people I select to be organized and be able to follow simple instructions. I tell every person I speak to “you must confirm the appointment by calling one hour before, if you don’t call I don’t go”. Believe it or not some people lack the basic skill of calling and showing up on time.
- Preparedness: I love applicants who ask what they need to bring with them so they can rent the place. Some people bring a nice, neat package. The target market for the property will set the timeline. A family with children will be shopping several months before the move in date. A single guy looking for a basement bachelor might end up shopping the weekend before their move in date. In any case preparedness is an asset.
- Financial Management: I want tenants to have financial management skills. If you can’t figure out how to get first and last together, I don’t want you renting any space I’m in charge of and I don’t care about your excuses. Please go be someone else’s problem.
- Honesty: I want honest people renting from me. I affect a very friendly demeanor with potential tenants. This is deliberate. I don’t like being interrogated and I assume other people don’t either. So instead of telling the tenant all my rules and what I want, I am listening to them, asking leading questions, joking and getting them to reveal their character. If they are liars, what else are they hiding?
A common ploy among bad tenants is to manipulate your feelings and try to make you feel sorry for them. Learn to recognize this as a very serious danger signal. First of all it is inappropriate behavior to start divulging very personal information to your landlord. It’s the first time you’ve met and you know everything including the color of their underwear. Don’t rent to someone you feel sorry for or you’ll be the sorry one.
I have a very simple application form that I use. When I worked for buildings the application forms were often 2 legal pages long. Most of the information was unverifiable and unnecessary. When I developed my own application I wanted just the meat. I get copies of photo ID and SIN card, present landlord, pay stubs or if direct deposited bank statements to verify deposits from work, a few references, and of course on the bottom of the application I get them to sign for permission to do the credit check. The person you cannot believe is the previous landlord. The worse the tenant is the more they lie as their desperation to get rid of the tenant increases. Don’t judge, this may be you one day.
The Credit Check
The purpose of the credit check for renters is not to check their scores. It does reveal their payment history, which is important, but it also verifies all the information that is written on their application. On the credit check it will say who is their employer, their current address as well as any previous addresses. Pay particular attention to the dates of any moves. Moving every four to six months may mean that person is getting evicted or unstable.
Evaluating the Applicant Overall
Do not under dismiss your sixth sense. This may sound very new age but in fact about 60% of communication is non-verbal and our human instincts have been honed over millennia to keep us safe. I am pragmatic about most things, after years of experience, I don’t ignore my intuition. After I meet a tenant the first time I imagine how it would feel if they moved into the house. This is an easy way to get in touch with your gut.
When in doubt, just don’t rent to a potential problem tenant. Here’s my checklist of bad risks.
- Last minute renters
- Dysfunctional people
- People who won’t do a credit check
- People who try to manipulate your emotions
- People who smell bad
- People who don’t have first and last month’s rent
- People who give you bad vibes
- People with implausible stories
- People with drug/alcohol issues
Do not under any circumstances tell them the reason why their application is being turned down. You don’t have to and telling them why may get you in trouble. You’d be surprised at what constitutes discrimination these days. So be safe and simply say “I’m sorry you didn’t get the space. Best of luck on your search”.
When showing an apartment it’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going and call them as soon as the appointment is done. Three times in my years of showing and renting properties I felt like I was in imminent danger. I am a woman and I show apartments at night in questionable areas all the time. If this ever happens to you, do what I do, leave the space immediately and come back the next day to lock the door. Be safe and keep your wits about you. Just leave. No one is going to steal your empty or your applications. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Final thoughts on Tenant Selection
Do the paperwork and trust your intuition. In every single case where I have rented a property to a wrong person, when I look back, I had a “bad” feeling or a sense that “things didn’t add up”. Beware the miracle tenant, the person who shows up two days before the end of the month, who has perfect income who offers to finish your renovation work and pay above market rent.
Happy renting !!!
About the Author: Rachelle specializes in renting property on behalf of landlords. She also works with investors to find good investments in Toronto and surrounding areas. Her passion is bringing multi res properties back from the brink and maximizing profitability.