The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: How to Screen Tenants the Right Way

  • The Cost of a Bad Tenant
  • The 10 Parts of the Screening Process
  • Employment Verification Example Form
  • Tenant Residency Verification Example Form

It’s tempting to take the first tenant that applies to your property. I understand. You’re ready to earn rent income ASAP. Please, please, please, don’t make this mistake!
Screening tenants is the most important step in renting your property. A bad tenant can cost a lot of money. Therefore, your screening process can determine the success or failure of your business.

The Cost of a Bad Tenant

What can a bad tenant really cost me?

Assume your tenant stops paying rent, and you need to file for eviction. We file for eviction immediately after a tenant is unable to pay rent. Many landlords don’t do this, and it’s a costly mistake. We recommend starting the eviction process as soon as possible, so you can minimize your cost, lost rent, and vacancy period.
We serve a 3-day notice (in Florida) if we don’t receive payment on the 5th day after the rent is due.

The notice demands payment within 3 business days or the tenant has to vacate the property. This way, we can file for eviction somewhere between 12 to 14 days after the rent is past due.

Most tenants pay immediately but some we have had to evict. It’s important when the tenant moves in to introduce them to how you do business. You can do this by email them or giving them a Tenant Welcome Letter. If you have told them from the beginning that you serve notice on the 5th, they will not be surprised. If you also told them that you don’t make exceptions, they will not call you with excuses.

Create systems and rules from the beginning, enforce them every time and you’ll find that being a landlord is not stressful.


Tenant Eviction Timeline in Florida

We are based in Florida so the only timeline I can give you is from our personal experience. For landlords who have properties in other states, I would recommend going to the courthouse website and searching for eviction cases. You can find out the timeline between file being open and closed.

Here in Tampa, Florida, it usually takes 30 days from filing for eviction to getting your property back (Sherriff posting Writ of Possession on the door)  Here is a more detailed timeline of the eviction process in Florida.

How Much Does it Cost to Evict a Tenant

In Florida, uncontested evictions cost around $500-$700 if you use an eviction lawyer and $400-$500 without a lawyer. The difference in cost is so minimal that it’s not worth doing it yourself. 

Most owners wait too long to file for eviction. Instead, they delay serving the notice 45 to 60 days after the rent is past due. This severely lengthens the eviction process and increases the amount of money the bad tenant will cost you.

Assuming the monthly rent is $1400, how much will a best case scenario cost you?
Let’s crunch some numbers.

Eviction fees $650+
Lost rent, 3 months* $4200+
Damages $1500+
(after deducting the
Re-renting cost: $550+
Total cost: $6850+

*Three months of lost rent includes the 1 month of rent unpaid by the tenant, 1 month of rent unpaid during the eviction process, and 1 month of time it takes to prepare the property and find a new renter.

Wow! The best-case scenario costs at the minimum $6850. That’s almost 5 months of rent! At $1400 per month, your gross rent for the year is $16,800. After deducting taxes, insurance, and other costs, you’ve lost nearly half of your yearly profit because of one bad tenant.
Half of your yearly profit! And this is the cost of a best-case scenario, filing for eviction immediately when rent goes unpaid. In contrast, if you wait 45 to 60 days longer to serve the 3-day notice—as most homeowners do—your costs are significantly higher.

The moral of this story? Always screen your tenants! It helps you to avoid costly bad tenants and to pick the best tenant for your property.

Never trust your gut feeling. Always do your research!

What does a great tenant look like?

A great tenant should be able to comfortably afford the rent, have a history of paying on time and have long-term job stability. He or she should also have a history of treating a property well and be law-abiding and low-maintenance.

How you screen your tenants may vary from property to property. Criteria for an upscale subdivision will differ from criteria for Section
8 housing. Regardless of the type of property, NEVER trust your gut feeling! Always do your research.

Should you ever relax your screening criteria?

No, absolutely not.

Please don’t let a vacancy or a lack of qualified applications make you a desperate landlord. Property owners can be tempted to relax their screening standards when confronted with these uncomfortable situations. Don’t do it!

Remember: a bad renter is worse—and more costly—than no renter!

Lack of qualified tenant applications?

Take a critical look at your rent price and the condition of your property. Your rent is probably too high or your property needs improving or updating. We strongly recommend reducing the rent to
get qualified prospects, NOT lowering your screening criteria.

The Screening Process

The best way to screen effectively is to have a strong process. This is the process that we’ve been developing for years.

The Application

A prospective tenant first enters our process by filling in an application. The goal of the application is to get information that will help you run a credit report and check their references, work, and past and current residencies.
If you do this yourself, we recommend a service like My Smart Move by TransUnion (an online tenant screening service).  The screening is free for landlords, it’s paid by the tenants. 

There is a new tenant screening service Naborly that is both free for tenants and landlords.  Naborly has an insurance (currently 2% of yearly rent) that protects landlords from default, late rent, property damage.