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    What Renters Should Know About Tenant Screening

    For military families, finding a rental home is stressful for many reasons. These are a few you’re probably familiar with: 

    These are essential details, but another matter could block you from moving into the perfect rental home. 

    Tenant screening.

    You wouldn’t be the first renter to forget about this step. It doesn’t really come up until you’ve narrowed down a few properties to tour. But if you’re not prepared, it can definitely derail your hopes of moving into your dream property.  

    Homeowners and landlords screen tenants to investigate further into who is the best person or family who fits their property’s specifications. They’re hoping to weed out candidates early on who do not meet their non-negotiable qualifications early on so they don't waste time and money. 

    What Renters Should Know About Tenant Screening1What a Renter Should Expect During the Screening Process

    While sifting through available rentals ads (or stressing about the lack of availability), you can become so dedicated to finding the perfect housing solution that you forget that the properties you’re touring are actually a part of the owner’s rental business. Yes, a business with an owner who wants to keep it profitable and healthy. There’s also a good chance the owner is a servicemember who may or may not be living near the property. 

    Here’s what to know about tenant screening and the answers you’ll need to provide for consideration. Depending on the owner, the screening process might be strict, lenient, or somewhere in the middle. It's best to prepare for all the options instead of feeling disappointed when the homeowner denies your application.  

    Pre-Screening Techniques

    Before diving into expensive and time-consuming background and credit checks, there’s a good chance landlords will try the free, easy route first. 

    landlord working on paperwork for tenant screening

    Photo from Canva

    The Initial Contact

    From the first time you reach out to the property owner, they’ll try to gauge your ability to take care of their house and pay rent on time. They’ll ask casual questions about why and when you plan to move, if you have pets, and about your workplace. Don’t be surprised—landlords are upfront about telling you they’ll perform a credit check. They also have the option to check your criminal history and verify your employment and rental history. 

    Keep in mind they’ll notice if you’ve ignored their marketing and advertising, such as if you haven’t paid attention to the specifics they’ve mentioned, like “call ONLY between 12 pm and 5 pm.” If you call at 10 am, they could remove your name as a contender. 

    Want to protect your information as a renter? With TransUnion SmartMove's Tenant Screening Services, you can protect your personal information and credit score. Through a secure online process, enter your personal information into SmartMove’s system to generate and deliver the screening reports to the landlord. This process keeps your personal information private and has no impact on your credit score. 

    Social Media

    There’s no easier way for a landlord to check out your lifestyle than to do a few searches across social media platforms. This includes popular private groups, especially if you’re both military connected. They’ll assume that since you’ve posted the information for public viewing, you’re okay with the perceptions formed from photographs and quick comments. 

    Although these may not be accurate indicators of your opinions and habits, your landlord won’t want to take the time to uncover the “true you” if they have a stack of applicants competing for the house. 

    social media icons on phone

    Photo from Canva

    Military Referrals and References

    At this point, you’ve probably realized the military world is small, and connections are often made by just a few inquiries. Mutual associations are common, and if your homeowner is a military member or veteran, they just might know someone who has worked with you, lived as your neighbor or has been your previous landlord.

    Curious about how to calculate your rental budget? How Much Rent Can I Afford? answers common questions about monthly rent payments.  

    What to Know about the Fair Housing Act 

    A landlord has plenty of legal reasons to reject your application, usually stemming from convicted criminal behavior or the lack of employment. However, several personal factors cannot automatically take you out of the running for a home. 

    Protected classes are written into the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The federally mandated act states,

    “The FHA forbids housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Homeowners are legally bound to uphold the same terms and conditions for each applicant. Homeowners cannot attach different qualifiers to a protected class applicant, for example, requiring a deposit for one set of renters, but not another.”

    If you believe a landlord has rejected you on any of these points, you can report the landlord to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Hard Screening Techniques 

    The homeowner has an ideal tenant in mind. Here are the benchmarks they’re looking for:

    • A monthly income of two to three times the rent each month (depending on the local market). 
    • The ability to pay upfront deposits and fees.
    • Clean eviction report.
    • A strong credit score.
    • Positive reference checks and solid employment history.

    To find this information, the homeowner will, depending on their preference, ask you to pay for the background or credit check or place these costs into a general application fee category. They may also include a non-refundable holding deposit or variation of. 

    Should you have a military clause in your lease? It depends on your specific situation. 

    The Scarcity of Rental Homes and How it Affects Screening

    Home buying has been challenging over the last few years, which puts extreme pressure on available homes to rent. This, unfortunately, means that military families are now competing with a larger pool of people who need rental homes. 

    Your personal details must be as tidy as you can manage, and you must be willing to share the details with your potential landlord to set yourself apart from other renters. It helps some renters to consider this information gathering in terms of a "rental resume." In very challenging markets, some renters go as far as actually creating a resume to hand to the homeowner initially. 

    Preparation is the key to a successful rental house hunt. If you need more guidance, take a look at our exhaustive collection of blog posts, resource articles, and ebooks specifically written with military renters in mind!

    How to Find a Rental Home with a Pet

    Dawn M. Smith


    Dawn M. Smith

    Dawn is a real estate and military life writer who has a serious HGTV habit. When she is not writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and golden retriever keep her busy through chauffeur duties, travel planning, and long dog walks. Dawn is pleased to share her experiences with MilitaryByOwner readers who are hoping to simplify military family journeys of all kinds. Follow Dawn on Pinterest for more ideas and resources and visit her site at Dawn M. Smith Custom Content Creation.

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