A great way to avoid evictions is to do some work on the front end to secure quality tenants who will pay on time and not destroy your property. This is not as daunting of a task as it might seem, however. It just requires that you take some time to outline and prioritize in the beginning and then put a screening process in place.
1) Require an application from your prospective tenant. At a minimum, a rental application will give you information about your tenant, including the name of their employer, salary, prior landlord, and reason for leaving (if applicable), and the names of any other occupants who might be inhabiting the premises. You can ask if they have ever filed for bankruptcy or have criminal convictions. You can also find out if they have pets, what kinds, and sizes.
2) Insist on a “no blanks” policy. One easy way to screen prospective tenants is to require that they complete all portions of the application. Of course, it should be clearly indicated on the application that all blanks must be completed or the application will not be considered. Provided the prospective tenant knows this, if they leave any portion of the application blank, you are free to discard the application.
3) Run a background check – but get consent first! As a landlord, you are allowed to run a background check on a prospective tenant to confirm what they have told you and to ensure that there are no surprises such as convictions or bankruptcies that they may have conveniently forgotten to include. In Florida, however, you cannot run a background check on an applicant unless they consent to the background check first. The best way to do this is to include a provision in the rental application indicating that a background check may be run and to have the applicant sign to give their consent. This consent should also cover credit report checks since a regular background check may not cover credit reporting agencies.
4) Charge an application fee. Florida law allows you to charge an application fee and does not limit the amount that can be charged. However, the conventional wisdom is to only charge a fee that would be no more than a normal expense. Normally, the application fee is non-refundable presumably because you will be using at least some of the money to run the background checks. You can make the fee refundable if you would like, but if you do make it non-refundable, make sure that this is stated clearly in the rental application. Also note that application fees and deposits cannot be commingled in one account. They must be kept separate.
5) Be consistent and unbiased. Your screening process, including the rental application, and application of your requirements for acceptable tenants should be applied consistently and fairly to all prospective tenants. The federal Fair Housing Act mandates that there should be no questions or screening criteria that discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, disability, religion, and children. Do not make exceptions to your rules for prospective tenants. If you require tenants to have a 600 or higher credit score, then keep to that requirement. You get into trouble when you apply your rules unevenly.
Screening tenants, preparing rental agreements, and running background checks can be time-consuming especially for landlords with multiple properties, or who have other primary occupations. If you are a landlord and want to have your tenant screening done right, including a well-crafted rental agreement and selection criteria, contact Atlas Law. We can help draft your standard rental agreement, determine appropriate criteria for tenants, and assist with overall screening. Contact us today to get started.