Any other tips would be appreciated to help me filter out an undesirable.
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I don't have a specific one to recommend, but a client of mine always asks for $50 to cover the credit check, which is refunded if they end up not renting and applied to rent if they do. The purpose is to screen without running credit. If they won't hand over $50, you don't want them.
I think we used landlord411.com when I screened potential tenants. If the system is the same -- I haven't been in property management since 09 -- you could run different checks a la carte. Like one fee for ss# verification, one fee for credit score, one fee for criminal background check, etc.
My recollection is that whatever combination of checks my boss thought was adequate ran about $20 or so per applicant. We charged a nonrefundable credit check fee of $30, I believe, to all applicants. That covered the costs of the checks plus I guess probably it covered my time to run everything.
VERY much worth it. If you run a check on someone and see they have a recent history of not paying their bills, which I encountered a LOT, one might assume that at some point they aren't going to pay you rent, either. There are plenty of people out there who DO pay their bills every month, and a credit report will show it. Those are the tenants you want! Good luck!
Also, my boss would have me call an applicant's workplace to verify employment and pay rate. He obviously preferred applicants with a stable work history who made enough money to afford the rent.
For tenants without much credit or work history, we'd require a co-signer on the lease and I would personally speak to co-signers and explain that if the tenant was ever more than 3 days late with rent, I'd be calling them for prompt payment.
All the upfront hassle is way easier (and cheaper) than trying to evict someone for nonpayment, believe me.
youcheckcredit.com is a good source. Their fees are very reasonable and you only pay per report and you can do everything from a simple credit report to a more extensive one that involves a criminal check. Their report will also give a recommendation on if you should rent to them, deny them or rent to them only if there is a cosigner or additional deposit
Just make sure you have an authorization to check their credit. You can also tell the prospective tenant there is an application fee to cover the credit check. If someone won't agree to a credit check it usually means a bad tenant.
Here's what we do: search for arrests/police calls at their current residence and a separate search of the county sheriff/court system. You will need their full name and date of birth in order to find law enforcement actions against them.
We check both where they live and where they say they work (i.e. live in Toledo, work in BG: check city of Toledo, Lucas County, city of BG, Wood County records). It's all free public information, on websites.
I was just thinking today, it seems like prospective landlords can now look up someone's current home on GoogleEarth Street View, and if they don't like how the place looks, deny them as renters.
facebook.com people post the darndest things. and you can probably see pictures. free and easy.