Dear PoP – Advice for Screening Tenants?

by Prince Of Petworth November 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm 64 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user pablo.raw

“Dear PoP,

We’ve been driven crazy with a bunch of loud college kids in the rowhouse next to us. Loud parties, not bagging their trash in the alley, and noise and parties at all ours. Calls to the city and cops haven’t really helped.

Now we just learned they will be leaving at the end of the month because they haven’t paid the rent.

We plan on contacting the landlord to help her get better renters. She not a professional landlord, but rents a few properties on the side. I was thinking like requiring a credit check, maybe suggesting some good places to advertise, and anything else the PoP community can come up with.

Our QUESTION to the PoP Community – has anyone every successfully done this? Any tips on what info. we could offer her or things we could do?”

For those who’ve found good tenants – how/where did you find them?

  • knowitall

    I’ve had a lot of success in the past renting to law students. They are usually quiet and well behaved. Also, as a great added bonus, they are required to list their landlords on their bar applications which means that they have extra incentive to behave and pay their rent because they don’t want a bad report for their character evaluation with whatever state bar they are attempting to become a member of.

    • Anonymous

      They usually have parents that can bail them out if something happens, as well.

    • sherman

      As a lawyer (thus former law student) and current landlord, I would *never* rent to law students! While in law school, a number of friends of mine sued their landlord over relatively petty grievances. They viewed it as a “fun” first experience with the legal system.

      A law student has a higher-than-average probability of being needlessly litigious, without the judgment that comes from age, maturity, practice, etc. And they are more likely than not view litigation as the resolution to problems, rather than simple discussion.

      In short, I’d never rent to law students, and I myself am a young lawyer!

      • Anonymous

        Don’t they have to report lawsuits to the bar as well? And would it reflect poorly on them if it was a frivolous one?

        • sherman

          Absolutely. But law students — particularly first year law students — don’t always exercise such judgment or forethought. Some of my classmates surely didn’t.

          And, although I’m surely no bar admissions authority, I think the degree of “frivolousness” that a lawsuit must reach before it leads to questions on bar admissions is pretty high. The bar surely doesn’t want to deter anything nearing a meritorious claim. And point is, in landlord relations, it’s not uncommon that there could be a colorable claim that isn’t frivolous from a legal perspective, but most rational folks would just resolve through negotiation.

          • anon.

            Is it legal to not rent to law students, medical students, beauty school students, non students, students.
            Does discrimination enter into this decision?

    • K St.

      I live in a large, very nice apartment building with a lot of law students. By and large they are spoiled, loud and inconsiderate. I would consider many of my neighbors to be very far from ideal tenants.

  • Melanie

    Grad student listservs are always good – I’ve found that grad students are (usually) pretty busy and have little time and money to throw big parties… but maybe I’ve just been lucky?

  • Anonymous

    that girl’s pants are huge!

    • Anonymous

      I’d rent to her!

      • Linds

        Aaaand judgement of the physical appearance of the woman in the picture. I’m surprised it took a whole 7 comments to get to this…

        • Anonymous

          You must be a lot of fun at parties

          • Linds

            This has been a very eye-opening couple of days on PoP for me. It never fails that a picture of a female is digested and judged in detail in the comments section. NEVER fails. And god forbid someone calls out the inappropriate comments, because they’ll be made to feel like a silly, emotional woman.

            It’s gross.

          • Anonymous

            I’m the one who made the comment and I’m a silly emotional woman. But one with a sense of humor!

          • anon

            uh, yeah, you too…not.

          • yeah, you too…not

            Meant that comment for anon at 3:21. Would bet you don’t do all that well at parties, aside from standing in the corner and commenting on women’s appearance. really fun, eh?

          • Wally

            This linds is obviously hideous.

          • A Moderately Attractive Girl

            Gotta agree with Wally. If it were my picture it would make my day to see people commenting favorably on my appearance.

        • Anonymous

          Are we supposed to never notice an attractive woman? I think “I’d rent to her” is pretty tame, if not a actual compliment.

        • TaylorStreetMan

          Well, gee, maybe Anonymous would rent to her because of the ginormous pants! Ever think o’ that? Maybe she looks like a fun tenant to have because of her very large fashions and ability to climb trees.

          And nobody here called you a “silly, emotional woman”. I think you did that. I didn’t even know you *were* a woman!


        • ah

          Maybe anon would rent to her because of her huge pants.

          I’d rent to her so because she’s 2 legit 2 quit.

        • Aaaaaaaaaaand cue the overly sensitized judgement of an alleged judgement. The “offending comment” sounded complimentary to me.

          WHY OH WHY are the easily offended somehow considered morally superior in this nanny-state, rather than simply “weak of character”? … When I walk by a smoker, I don’t make a political issue of it, it’s not my thing. I keep walking. Same thing here. Nothing offensive here, keep moving. Thank you, have a nice day.

    • whoa_now

      Rent to yoga peeps.

  • Anonymous

    Someone with a government job, or defense contractor job, is unlikely to deafult on their rent since they probably won’t be laid off.

  • BCinDC

    After a terrible time with our first tenant, we decided to go through a management company. They do the whole shebang (credit checks, employment checks, reference checks) for a modest fee. We use Property Management Specialists in Silver Spring (301-587-0800; http://www.pmsimanagement.com) and love the fact that we don’t have to worry about anything. The tenants we’ve had since our first one have been practically angelic; we never know if they’re home, they’re so quiet. I know the OP said the landlord rents a few properties out, but she might want to pass on the info about a management company. For what one pays a professional mgmt company is well worth it because they’re the ones that have to deal with all the crap, including evicting tenants if it comes to that.

    • anon.

      You were just lucky.

    • briefly

      I use a property manager too. Note one drawback of property managers is they can’t discriminate at all. If you rent the place yourself you can basically choose whoever you feel best about and don’t need to explain yourself for the most part. A property manager has to do it by the book and is forced to accept Section 8’ers, which can open a whole can of worms. Most of them are good of course, but the problem is DCHA doesn’t really give a crap about how bad they are, so the bad ones get a blank check to do whatever they want. I basically have a lease with my tenants that says any illegal activity will get them evicted, and I stay in touch with my neighbors and with MPD to clue me in if anything gangta starts happening there. I do this as the last section 8 house we had on that block was a gangsta house, the kids there assaulted me, beat and raped the little old lady across the street, and murdered a 14 year old (yes one was found guilty, I think he’s back on the street now). They were able to carry on such activities for almost a year as the landlord didn’t care and neither did DCHA. MPD was helpless as they were juvies. So, it all comes down to the landlord, if they don’t care then that’s that. Property managers are helpful but if they also don’t care then that’s that…

  • Caroline

    It might sound silly, but I’d post a request on the DC/MD/VA forum at Ravelry.com. Knitters are generally calm, responsible people, and I’m always seeing requests for housing on there.

    • anon.


  • Los Politico

    want better tenants? charge more money. you be surprised how many people think more expensive = nicer even if you dont do anything different

    • ca ed dc gy tk pp le

      Wouldn’t charing more money lead to faster turnover (generally not a good thing)? A year from now they’ll decide they can get a better deal elsewhere and you’ll have to go through the same process over again.

      • Mick

        I list my apartment at $50 to $100 less than I could probably get for it. As a result, each time it’s been on the market, I get a very large pool of applicants. This affords me the flexibility to be very picky. We hold a single open house where everyone realizes the demand is high. Then we pump the potential candidates (3 to 5 always stand out from the rest) with lots of questions. There’s no one profile; so long as the potential tenant fits your needs (stable job, quiet, clean, absence of heavy drug use), it doesn’t matter what they do. Oh yeah — credit check.

        • TaylorStreetMan

          And huge pants? c’mon! work wit me here!

      • Eric in Ledroit

        moving is a pain.

      • Los Politico

        I thought the question was how to get quieter, more mature tenants. Not less tenants.

    • Landlord

      Strange but true! I first advertised my rental house at $2100 and only got very young applicants or undergrads plus some Section 8 inquiries. I raised the rent by $600/month without changing anything about the house and suddenly the quality of the applicants went way up. Go figure.

  • Jesse

    Anybody with any of the enforcement agencies (i.e. DOJ, DOD, DHS), since they’ll not only have a reputation to upholf, but there’s a likelihood that they’ll be under scrutiny from their employers. It’s also possible that they’d be a member of the quieter sub-organizations (FBI, intelligence, and ICE, respectively) and therefore everything goes double.

  • Chris R

    I recommend a application and credit check and look for scores over 700. Employment verification, and last 2 landlords. Call both of these to verify all the facts. We use the Landlord Protection agency for forms etc. It’s well worth the yearly fee.

    • anon

      +1 credit score over 700

  • Said

    As a renter, I’d have to say that my work place played a huge part in my getting my place as quickly as I did. Great neighborhood with wonderful amenities and reasonable rent resulted in lots of applicants for the landlords to choose from. I think the fact that I was a single renter who could carry the rent without room mates helped but I’m convinced that my job with a very well-known, unimpeachable non-profit played a part, too. I have to believe that they wondered, ‘Well, how bad could she be if she works for them?’

  • Anonymous

    Call the FBI. They know everything about everybody.

  • MAR

    Rent to me! I’m looking…and I’m a grad student with a full time job!

  • flo

    Rent to someone who has a boyfriend in a nicer place. She’ll never be home. :)

  • K

    my current landlord had an extensive application. In involved a credit check, 3 previous landlords as references, a list of all sources of income with phone numbers to verify. When I was applying I thought it was a pain in the butt. However, now after living there a few years I really appreciate it. We’ve always had really good and responsible neighbors. He also talked to us for a really long time asking us questions about our selves.

  • andy

    find a friend who has good tenants. Ask those tenants if they have friends looking for a nice quiet place to live.

  • WDC

    I’m glad to see this question, as I’ve been considering completing my basement’s conversion to an apartment and spending the next few years coasting on the backs of the working poor. It is a republican era, after all.

    My plan is to paint the walls pale pink and put chintz or lace curtains in the windows. With this decor scheme, I expect to attract mainly kindergarten teachers. I may use that tip to post on the knitters’ forum…

    • TaylorStreetMan

      “I expect to attract mainly kindergarten teachers”

      or sorority girls with fratboy boyfriends…. one word for you: kegger.

  • Anonymous

    My rules as a landlord for the last 7 years:

    (1) Advertise on Craigslist or grad student listservs. Any other place will just get you riff-raff.
    (2) Require information from current and past landlords — and actually call them.
    (3) Have prospectives pull their own credit reports, w/ FICO scores, and include it in the application. (As noted above, over 700 only, please).
    (4) It really depends on how much you are charging for rent, but rent to no one with an income under 45k/yr (less may run into $$ troubles) and no one with an income above 90k/yr (likely to ditch the lease to buy a place at some point and, frankly, likely to be just a little more nitpicky with you as a tenant).
    (5) Graduate degrees in meaningless fields are generally a good sign.
    (6) MEET every single person who wants to rent the place in person and make sure you’re personally comfortable with them. Don’t deal with just one half of a roommate pair.

    I’ve violated these rules — specifically, #6 — just a few times, and those are the only tenants I’ve wanted to get rid of (absolute slobs who never cleaned the place, late rent, complained about every single thing (i.e., come change this lightbulb for me), etc.). Also, I’d be pretty pissed if my neighbors tried to interject themselves into my business on tenant selection, so you may want to tread lightly. This “help” you want to offer can come across as very, very presumptuous, but you know your own relationship with them.

    • Anonymous

      (I’m the original poster)

      Hey Anonymous 3:49pm,

      Thanks for this great information! I also get what you’re saying about them getting offended about us “sticking our noise” in the business, but I frankly don’t give a f*^k. This is bascially a slum landlord only interested in the rent checks. That being said, she’s been burned by her section 8 tenants who tore the place up so badly that she couldn’t afford the repairs. Now she’s having the same problem with college students.

      I am willing to do her job so we can get a good night sleep. She get’s offended, well… at least we tried! If it works, maybe she makes more $ and we get some peace and quiet.

      • Anonymous

        No sweat, and good luck. BTW, you also should get the last two paystubs and pay close attention to whether things like retirement savings and medical insurance are being deducted (both are good indicators of a stable job and, usually, that overlaps with a stable tenant). The 200-level course involves a little math, but will get you a better sense of what income range to consider: (1) try to figure out the applicant’s monthly car payment, student loan payment, and credit card bills from their credit report; (2) look at what the rent you want is; and (3) consider how much money is going to be left in those paychecks once you deduct rent, estimated utilities, and all the other monthly expenses. If there’s a least $500 left over, it’s all good.

        If your neighbor is cool with it, it can only benefit you. I’d guess it’s all in your approach. I’m not saying I’d be unequivocally opposed to it, just that I’d unequivocally reserve final selection for myself … and find it a little odd if approached with the proposition out of nowhere.

  • why not Columbia Heights

    other landlords I know try to just rent to folks who have security clearances because they have the most to lose if they eff up their credit, rack up huge debt, have liens against them etc. At least in this town, its not hard to find folks with security clearances. The other plus is that anyone with a security clearance has better job prospects than a lot of folks (at least historically) so that could mean more financial security.

  • anon

    Interesting comments about hiring a management company to help deal with tenant issues.

    We’re considering leaving the country for a few years and renting our row house. Any idea if you need to be an official “legal” rental unit to get a management company to represent you?

    • briefly

      Yes, if you want an official legal management company to represent you. My company required me to get my business license from the DCRA shitheads. Dealing with them was actually a good reminder of why I was leaving DC, sort of like the office send off party where you are reminded how much you dislike many of your coworkers!

      Its of course an easier experience at DCRA if you’re black, all other skin tones prepare for a long and angry process.

  • Anonymous

    I Everyone,

    Thanks for the great advice! Does know how one can access those graduate student listserves?

    Thanks again!

  • We have a great community oriented property management company and we’ve had great luck renting to fab folks in Petworth. We agree with much of what has been said but generally speaking – if you rent high quality spaces and take excellent care of them – you tend to get good tenants. Checking references is also really important and spending a lot of time getting to know the tenant and developing a good rapport with them. It’s the golden rule. You can see more about our philosophy here! http://www.nest-dc.com

  • Rukasu

    Maybe it’s none of your business who she rents to.

    I mean really, she didn’t really seem to mind in the first place. You called the cops and the city which yielded nothing, but did you ever complain to her right off the bat? Seems a little pompous to think she’ll take your advice in getting new tenants, sounds like as long as she gets paid she doesn’t give a damn.

    • paulkp

      What Mick said. You can then screen out people who don’t read your ad carefully, don’t come on time to appointments, have weird personalities. Oh yes, and don’t rent to students. Ever. I’m sorry. We were all student renters, and we were terrible. I’m sorry.

  • Anonymous

    (Original Poster)

    I’m Pompopus???? Isn’t she the pompous one thinking she can repeatedly rent to irresponsible people that disrespect our neighborhood?

    But I guess you’d be right if we were living in Tea Party America with President Sara Palin who would restore everyone’s “freedom” to do anything and everything they want.

  • cahbf

    I have been a landlord for many years. The number one thing you can do to get good tenants is have a 700 or 750 minimum credit score. Never rent to anything less, even if they have a cosigner, etc.
    I also disagree about law students…they are a pain in the ass. Little baby lawyers with no experience, a modicum of power/knowledge, and a lot of free time = yikes. I never rent to law students. And I’m a lawyer.

  • Anonymous

    we used the transunion rental program (https://www.mysmartmove.com/) and really liked it. Tenant pays $20 or so, and you get a decision based upon your entered criteria.

    I was happy not having their SSN, etc. They just enter it into the system, and the landlord gets the result. Easy-pezy.

  • Realtor

    Just fo to http://www.mysmartmove.com. The potencial tenants pay for the app, it checks the credit, criminal and more.

    you get the answer, no need to have a management firm to rip you with 10% of rent fee to collect the checks.

    Ask a bit less for your rent then market rate, do not be greedy, take care of the issues at the property and you will be fine. and yes DO NOT discriminate

  • Hi all. Our property management company specializes in condo rentals as well as small multi-family. Having done this for quite a few years, we use a risk-scoring system which analyzes a number of factor including credit score, rental history, and criminal history to give a risk score. We suggest an income multiple of at least 35x rent (A household looking at a $2k/mo. apartment should make at least $70k). The only time we’ve ever had problem tenants is when owners ignore these guidelines (usually because they’re desperate to get the place rented quickly to drum up some income). In DC, it is illegal to discriminate against students and Section 8 renters, but there are ways around that. Always check references and verify employment.

    My guess is that your neighbor would actually be happy to hear your suggestions as early lease terminations, especially because of non-payment always costs the landlord money. Good Luck


  • We’ve been through this a bunch of times, 5 good tenants and one really bad dud that we had to get rid of. Here’s some advice. Whatever you do, check at LEAST the last three places they have lived. If they can’t furnish this, move to the next person. Call their work, call their references, get family references and call them. If there is anything suspicious, move one. Make sure they own a car, that’s pretty good measure of responsibility. DO NOT RUSH! There are lots of good tenants out there and make sure you take your time and find a good one. As for law students – don’t they usually turn into lawyers at some point? Lawyers have this way of thinking, that follows the logic of “if you can’t prove it at the moment, it’s not necessarily true” – avoid lawyers at all costs.

  • Coopersmama

    I spent the day yesterday at Landlord Tenant Court because I had a BITCH ASS tenant. I did win because I made sure all my i’s were dotted and t’s crossed. But here are the lessons I learned.

    1. Make sure you check the tenants credit
    2. One STEP FURTHER: search the court records (free to access) to see if they have been sued in landlord tenant court or small claims.
    3. Make sure you get a completed application with SSN, Driver’s license number, employer information, account info (if you eventually need to garnish wages)
    P.S. I used to NOT rent to Law students, but I just ‘lay the law’ with them well in advance (no you cannot write your own freakin’ lease, you sign my lease or PEACE OUT!) The last few have been generally decent, quiet- and one bunch even used to landscape- they said it was relaxing.

    And the number one rule- BE A GOOD, DECENT LANDLORD yourself. You treat people and their home well, most of the time they won’t be assholes. I have been a landlord for 8 years and have several properties, and had one asshole- and I did set her straight.


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