Dear PoPville – Best way to find a tenant?

Photo by PoPville flickr user caroline.angelo

“Dear PoPville,

Question for all you landlords out there — what’s the best way to find a tenant? Advertising on Craigslist? Holding an “open house” and advertising on Craigslist?

Do you have tenants fill out an application, and if so, do you charge an application fee?

What kind of “due diligence” do I need to be doing to make sure I end up with a good tenant — I should run a credit check, right? Anything else?

How do you recommend doing things when you’re (1) seeking a tenant to share some degree of space with you (housemate, basement tenant, etc.), vs. (2) seeking a tenant to live in a rental property totally unconnected with your own residence?”

29 Comment

  • We used craigslist, no application fee, met potential tenants whenever we could (usually weekday evenings), and ran a credit check.

  • I use Craiglist. Usually list it about $100 a month under what I think is fair market value. Then I always get 3-4 really good applicants. 1 turns out to be outstanding with great credit and rental history. It’s definitely worth a little less rent to get a great tenant. That being said, the condo is on Cap Hill so decent location ( not hard to draw interest). Have them provide you a credit check, don’t charge for the app with other info. Usually you’ll get a second year out if them, and better tenants tend to treat the property better.

    • As a landlord I strongly second this. Charging less for rent is totally worth it because you get better tenants and will have fewer problems. I try to charge 100-200 below market and that makes it easy to find tenants who always pay on time, are quiet, and take good care of the place. A friend of mine who charges full market price has had a much different experience. The people with the best applications will choose the better deals while he gets the people who people like me reject. Craigslist is all you need and I always wind up picking someone who contacted me within one hour of when I posted the ad. A quick response shows they are really interested in your place and they they are on the ball and take care of things quickly (like paying the rent and letting you know about problems). Be sure to get good photos and put them in the ad and also include complete descriptions, unlike most of the ads that have only a couple of sentences. Applicants appreciate more information and it also indicates that your ad is not one of the scams.

      I always charge a $20 application fee and urge you to do so as well. The reason I do this is not to collect the money; I only cash the check when I approve someone, while I never cash the other application checks people give me. However, the reason why is because collecting a check from someone on the spot works as a initial way to screen out people who will be more reluctant to pay rent. If it is a hassle for someone to give me $20 on the spot then it will be difficult for them to give me a check for two thousand dollars on the first of every month. You should also definitely run a credit check. I’ve never had one change my mind on an application but there may be a time when it raises a red flag. It doesn’t take much effort and due diligence is always worth it. More important to me, however, is screening by talking to former landlords (though that doesn’t always work and I don’t hold it against them) and employers.

      Anyway, you are in a very lucky position if you are a landlord in DC. If you don’t get outstanding tenants applying then you are doing something wrong.

      • I also meant to add that I don’t do open houses unless the unit is vacant (so only when I bought the building). From the responses I contact the people who seem the best then invite the top three for individual showings where they see the unit and give me their application and fee if they are still interested. I don’t think I’ve ever had to show to more than the top three people. Again, if you make a good ad, talk to tenants before they come to gauge interest and whether it will be a good fit, you can count on them really wanting the place and on you not having to show it to many people.

  • Craigslist with showings by appointment only on set days. (ie, Sunday noon-4), a weekday, etc. It helps you from bunching up, and you’re not stuck sitting around for a large block of time if nobody signs up.

    Credit check is a must, I have them supply a printout, a neighbor has had folks use an online system where they pay to have it sent to you. Be prepared to either have application forms on hand or an online form. No application fee.

    1yr commitment minimum, used to do month to month after that, however now w/ the market I just have folks re-up for a full year.

    No Pets, this isn’t about you loving animals, your tenant will likely not love the space they are in as much as you a homeowner does. Accidents, etc will likely not get cleaned up promptly. A carpet replacement in two units due to un-removable pet odor was a tough lesson.

    Unless you’re really stretched for cash or have sh*&^( tenants, don’t raise the rent year to year. Someone who is good and keeps the place clean is worth way more than the extra few hundred you’ll get in a year. After 5 years or the same tenant, I’ll look at a minor adjustment as espenses warrant.

    DC law gives you a lot more leeway on picking tenants if they’re a housemate vs separate rental. On a separate rental, make sure you’re licensed or eviction is imposisble. Also note, if the ‘basement tenant’ is a separate unit, they’re not a roomate, and you need to be licensed.

    Get some good professional cleaners on call. Use them before the first tenant moves in, and between.

    Take pictures prior to movein, document current state of the unit (damages, wear & tear, etc) and share it with the tenant. This prevents deposit surprises on move-out and sets the tone that you’re serious about them taking care of the place.

    This is a bit dated now, but was maintained for a while by dcra

    • “1yr commitment minimum, used to do month to month after that, however now w/ the market I just have folks re-up for a full year.”

      No big deal, but that’s illegal in DC. After 1yr, they have the right to go month to month. It’s ok to negotiate a better price/no increase for a longer lease, but you have to give them the option.

      • Not true. The lease automatically goes to month-to-month, but a landlord can always require a new lease (i.e., another year).

        • Nope, Oye is correct. You cannot require a tenant to sign a new one-year lease. Of course, the obvious way around this it to say that, if the tenant will be going month-to-month, you are going to raise the rent x number of dollars, but if they are willing to sign another year lease, you’re willing to keep the rent the same or raise it a significantly smaller amount.

          • Is that true of landlords with only one unit? I know some of the rules apply only to those with 4+ units, so am wondering about this one, too.

          • As far as I can tell, it is. Here is the exact block of text from the DC Tenant Survival Guide:

            No matter what type of lease you have—written or
            oral, month to month or annual—your landlord
            cannot evict you without a legally valid reason. (See
            the section on Evictions for details on the eviction
            process.) In fact, after a lease expires you can
            continue to stay in your apartment as long as you
            continue to pay rent. The terms of your expired lease
            continue to be in effect with the exception that your
            rent may increase after a valid 30 day notice. To
            increase your rent, your landlord must file a notice
            with the RACD. Any increase must meet certain legal
            requirements. (See the section on Rent Control for
            details regarding rent increases.)

    • Do you have any cleaners you recommend? Also, what’s your typical transition procedure – clean and paint after every tenant, or just when it’s warranted?

      First year as landlords and we’re still learning the ropes…your post was really informative!

  • 1. Price it well. Check the comps on CL then look again at your apt. and be brutally honest. A little under market = happy tenants.

    2. Accept pets. Pet owners are nicer people, and very grateful to find a place that accepts pets. (I always accept on an individual pet basis however.)

    3. Post on CL & Padmapper. Hold an open house on a weekend afternoon, but be available to show to other good prospects as needed. I always ask people to bring me whatever information they have that will convince me that they are a good & reliable tenant – pay stubs, credit reports etc.

    4. No application fee. Call previous landlords for verification. (But be aware that in the low-rent market or Section 8, a landlord will lie to get rid of a crappy tenant because they have no other option.)

    5. For someone sharing part of your space – trust your instincts.

  • My experience is limited to a separate rental. Yes to craigslist. Schedule an open house or group appointments together. In my experience, about 50% who schedule don’t show up. I have them provide a recent credit report in lieu of me running it. Easier for everyone. Agree with previous commenters on looking for long term renters. Turn over costs money, so it’s easily offset by holding rent steady.

  • I’m not a landlord, but as someone who has found numerous fabulous roommates on CL, I suggest an open house with a 3 hours span but no appointments. When people see other people interested a space, it ups the chance that your first choice will say yes. And I’d say my gut has been right about 95% of the time with proper due diligence.

  • I use craigslist. Apart from word of mouth or a few college/institution boards, I don’t know if there’s any other options.

    I usually advertise an open house date, but don’t put the exact address. I ask that they email me for the exact address. That way, I lessen the chances that it’ll be a waste of time and no one will show up.

    I don’t really do a full out credit check. I have a basic no-fee application that I have them fill out if they’re interested. I used the data in the form for a quick google/linkedin check. 99% of the time, the job/data matches up with what’s up there and there’s no problem. That, and whatever your instincts tell you when you first meet them.

    As for other due diligence, ask why they are moving and check their stories. If they say they just moved to DC but have been here for years = big red flag. etc. etc.

    If I was renting for situation (1), I would have a more in depth interview/meeting with any potential roommate to figure out if its a good match.

  • I’ve use Craigslist it’s worked very well, I’ve had two successive tenants in my one-bedroom English basement unit since 2008 and both have been fine. The current tenant plans to stay indefinitely, which is great. I price the unit at about market rate when a new tenant comes in, but avoid rent increases in subsequent years and it keeps a good tenant happy, which is what you want. I loathe the credit bureaus and don’t want to give them a dime. Instead, I speak directly with the current employer, the most recent landlord, and two personal references. This has worked fine. I don’t do an open house, I’m not interested in “Looky Loos” but only people who are seriously interested in taking the time to set up an appointment to see the apartment and fill out an application (no fee). This also gives you an idea about how they will approach their responsibilities as a tenant. I guess my approach is a little “old school,” but I think that direct conversation with the tenant’s references really tends to weed out the problem people.

  • Local listservs….that’s how I”ve found my best places….besides word-of-mouth by telling everyone you know i.e. trust!

  • If you allow dogs, don’t set a weight limit for what’s allowed. My 90 pound dog hasn’t barked in years and isn’t at all destructive. But I’ve lived in buildings where the 20 pound beagle down the hall makes everyone’s life miserable. If you want to allow them, state that it’s on a case-by-case basis and take the time to meet the dog before renting to the owner.

    • I have two little dogs, and completely agree! Small dogs are more likely to pee in the house, chew on things, and bark. I’ve never understood those weight restrictions and would certainly not have one if I were renting to dog owners.

    • I agree too. I have two large dogs who have never destroyed anything, are house trained (can’t do wee pads with big dogs) and pretty much sleep all day. I have a neighbor who has a beagle who howls all freaking day. Case by case basis is definitely the way to go.

  • Credit check tells all.

    If you don’t get a DC business license (or certificate of occupancy) none of this will matter.

  • I agree with much of the advise already stated. I have advertised solely on craigslist for rental apartment. I make sure to include as much info about the apartment and area, and we took really good pictures when it was still empty. I also ask that respondents include information about themselves in return. If someone sends me a one sentence response, they won’t hear from me.
    I have anyone interested fill out an application (which asks basic information like employment, salary, last landlord’s info, etc.) and I do not charge an application fee. I run a credit check, criminal background check and call their employer to confirm their employment status. I also require a month’s rent for the security deposit in the form of a cashier check. Another important thing to remember is to trust your own intuition. You can usually tell pretty quickly if someone is going to be high maintenance or a problem tenant. There is a difference between being diligent (a desired trait in a tenant) and being nit picky.

  • Any landlords who weren’t on PoPville yesterday want to weigh in today?

    • I used Craigslist to find a tenant for the spare bedroom in my house. She pays the rent on time, but is slovenly and not very friendly. I’m not sure how to determine if someone would be enjoyable to live with– intuition can only take you so far when you’re limited to a 30-minute interview or whatever.

  • Anyone use Airbnb or similar? I put up a listing, out of curiosity, and got tons of responses, mostly from people looking for long-term rentals. It seems safer than Craigslist because Airbnb has all those protections.

  • Any more thoughts from landlords on good ways to find a tenant and what kind of “due diligence” to do?
    Also, for landlords who have had nightmare tenants, what kinds of warning signs should I be on the lookout for?

  • We just went through this process using craigslist, which was fine .

    It was really easy to use Experian for credit reports:
    You send the email to the tenant, they pay to pull the report and then can have Experian send it to you so that way you get the official credit report and don’t have to deal with collecting money for it during the application process.

    Other than that, use a basic application form, last 2 paystubs, and copy of ID (so you know it’s actually their credit report), with 1 month rent as security deposit. Also, don’t put the exact address until setting up an appointment.

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