Our clients frequently ask us about Tenant Screening. For Landlords who want to minimize their risk of renting to problematic tenants, a variety of methods can be used to predict whether the tenant may present a problem in the future. Most Landlords are already familiar with the variety of online services that can be used to screen the applicant based on credit score and other financial criteria. Although credit score can be a valuable indicator of a tenant’s ability to pay his or her rent, most landlords would prefer to know whether their prospective tenants had any prior eviction or criminal history. Since there tends to be a high recidivism rate amongst tenants who have been evicted, having the applicant’s eviction history may be a valuable tool in indicating a potential problem with the applicant. Similarly, the prior criminal history of an applicant may be of cause for concern for a landlord.
Information regarding an applicant’s eviction or criminal history can be obtained free of charge from the State of New Jersey’s Judiciary web site. To access this information, go to www.judiciary.state.nj.us. On that website, users may click the tab marked “online resources.” Under that tab, you will be provided with several options, including “civil case public access,” and “criminal conviction information.” Using the applicant’s name, the user can then find out whether any civil or criminal cases have occurred. More detailed information can also be obtained using the public access computer workstations located inside the County Courthouses.
Another effective screening method is a surprise visit to the apartment where the applicant currently lives. Very often, these visits yield astonishing findings regarding the cleanliness of the potential applicant. In some cases, an applicant who appears to be otherwise qualified will prove to be a hoarder or have a substantial sanitation issue. We do not recommend giving too much weight to a recommendation from the prior landlord.
Very often, the prior landlord is highly motivated to remove the unwanted tenant and may therefore provide a prospective landlord with an overly complimentary report about a bad tenant.
While the screening of tenants is part of the responsibility of being a landlord, it is also the responsibility of the landlord to ensure that he or she complies with Federal and State laws. Specifically, a landlord may not engage in any illegal form of discrimination. The laws regarding discrimination are infinitely complex and extend to the screening of applicants as well as the method of advertising. If you are unsure of the laws regarding discrimination, you should speak with a lawyer who specializes in that field of law. Landlords should also be aware that searches might sometimes lead to false results, especially in cases where the applicant has a common name. Landlords must take extra caution to make sure that their screening practices are consistent for all applicants and do not violate any laws regarding discrimination. Finally, landlords should be cautioned that not all applicants with negative indicators in their credit, eviction or criminal histories are going to difficult tenants.