CSP Chapter 2 Lesson 1: Get Familiar with the Screening Process and Costs

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Lesson preview: This lesson provides insights into the screening process landlords use to make a selection from the applications they’ve received. Typical selection criteria are provided, and typical information that’s required of you when you make an application are listed for your easy referral. Lastly, the typical fees you’ll have to pay for the application and selection are estimated for you.


The Screening of Applications

The screening process is the process a landlord or property manager uses to find a suitable tenant.  It is similar to a job application and interview where the employer is looking for the best person for that job.

The screening process starts with the landlord identifying the characteristics of a suitable tenant. The landlord sets the selection criteria, then advertises the property. The landlord will use the application process to ask for particular information about the possible tenant, will do reference checks, both credit and criminal and possibly personal references, and may want to conduct interviews as a way to learn more about the tenant and their history, to screen for the best applicant. Reference checks and character checks are ways to confirm the information provided on an application form is accurate.

This Responsible Tenant course will help you put your best foot forward. You’ll learn the many ways you can show how you are responsible and able to look after the landlord’s property and how you can meet the agreed upon conditions of the lease.


Who does the Screening Process?

The screening process may be undertaken by the landlord, the landlord’s representative or management company, or by a third party.

The landlord often uses a separate Screening Agency to do reference checks. Those screening agencies often have their own forms to do reference checks for employment, criminal history, examine court records, and tenant history before giving their findings to the landlord.

The fees for a Screening Agency to do these reference checks currently ranges between $30 to $50. Typically the landlord and the screening agency will ask the applicant for their consent to do the reference check. The reference check process covers the information you provided on the application form and may include calling your current landlord, current employer, or references as well as searching public information sources. The landlord uses the Selection Criteria to form an opinion on the suitable tenant.


What are Selection Criteria?

Written selection criteria help the tenant understand the qualities a landlord is looking for in a tenant. As a potential renter, you should address those criteria in the application to demonstrate you are or will be a Responsible Tenant. It’s helpful to remember that the landlord is trying to protect his property and will only want to hand that property to responsible and trustworthy tenants.

Typically, a landlord will use various criteria to assess if you will be a responsible renter.  Here are some of those things a landlord will want to know when considering an application:

  • a history of being a responsible renters:
    • a verifiable satisfactory rental history over the 6 most recent months
    • a good reference from previous landlords about your rental behavior, how you looked after the property, if you paid your rent on time, and if you caused any problems
    • no evictions
  • an indication that you can afford to survive
    • income to show that you can afford the rental and cant survive (using the 30% rule you learned about earlier)
    • a favorable credit rating, often defined as 650 or higher
  • an indication that you are responsible within the laws of society
    • no sex-related or violence-related offenses or drug convictions.
  • an indication that your are financial responsible
    • shown through no bankruptcies or law suits


Clearly defined, written screening criteria help to save both parties time and energy by helping match suitable people and properties. They also help prevent discrimination and maintain fairness.


Information Required of You When Making a Rent Application

To help yourself in the application and screening process, so you can get the rental property you want, it’s best to get prepared by gathering the following information and have it ready when you make your application:

  • Proof of income – provide pay stubs, or confirmation from your employer(s)
  • Your credit score – you can provide your credit score obtained from reputable agencies, or the landlord will use a screening agency to provide this
  • Your rental history – provide a list of your rental history, including names and contact information of your former landlords
  • Any criminal records – you’ll provide your full name and any previously used name and your social security number to assist in the process. If you have a criminal record or an offense, be forthcoming with those details upfront, to help establish trust. Also provide details of an offense, and what you have done since then to demonstrate that this won’t reoccur.
  • References – provide the names and contact information of personal references of people who can confirm your employment, character, history, or other information that confirms that you are responsible, capable and trustworthy.
  • Mobile screening reports – these are screening reports done by an independent company, which you can then give to various landlords when you are applying for rentals. This helps you to be prepared in advance and to pay for one screening report only. In some cities, landlords may be required by law to accept a mobile screening reports. Check the rules in your area. Landlords are concerned that the screening report is done close to the time of making your application.
  • Other information to satisfy the selection criteria, as advertised.


Application and Screening Fees

The screening process involves a number of steps. Sometimes you’ll be charged one price to cover all the steps of this process, or the landlord may charge a separate fee each step. Generally, these are the two fees you can expect to cover when you make your application. These range in cost from $25 to $75 altogether.

  • Application fee– There is a cost of processing an application, especially if the landlord engages a third party to show the property and to process the application. The application fee may vary.
  • Screening fees– these are fees by third parties to check commercial databases or to make reference checks. In some states, the landlord-tenant laws prohibit the landlord overcharging the screening fee.

In most instances, the landlord will refund any portion attributable to screening agent fees, if those services are not used. In most US States, the landlord must refund any unused charges paid by the applicant.


Example of Screening Criteria, example from a property management available online:

  • http://cdn.kpsonline.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ACRANET-Tenant-Appl-316-KPS-Modified.pdf
  • Screening criteria from Acranet.com
Back to: CSP Rental Readiness Program – West Alabama > Chapter 2: Apply for a Rental Property