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We have discussed in this space before how the apartment market is dominated by change. Change can make for crisis or opportunity, the choice is yours. As a property owner or manager you have a responsibility to attract and retain the best quality tenants. This ensures that you have the ability to continue having a valuable property to lease and match quality renters with your expectations as a landlord. Chances are if you have a desirable place for rent in Chicago for example, it won't be vacant for too long. There is only so much student housing to go around and the market is definitely very competitive year after year. This doesn't mean off campus properties for rent are at a disadvantage. Quite the opposite is true in fact. This step-by-step guide makes it easy, more manageable and possibly less stressful to choose new tenants to rent to.
As a landlord you have the ability to set the bar as high or as low as you want to. The number one thing to keep in mind is to be in touch with your expectations ahead of time since it is only fair. You must always keep in mind best practices to avoid any sort of discrimination as defined by federal and state statutes. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against a possible tenant because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability. There is some valuable information on the topic here. Beyond that, you have the right to recruit competent and reliable tenants who will uphold their end of the lease agreement and take care of your property respectfully. Minimum allowable considerations for a good applicant should be a) income, b) credit rating/history, c) length of time at current job, d) references from previous landlords if applicable, e) maximum allowable tenants allowed, f) exceptions for pets, g) past eviction filings and a comprehensive h) banking history. Aside from these obvious things, make lists of pros and cons, such as renting to students versus adults versus married couples and work out those variables ahead of time.
Just as you would not drive in a high performance racing vehicle without a seat belt on, you would not have an application for your rental be anything less than complete down to the last detail. In addition to the acceptable info listed above, you certainly want to request the applicants social security number to run a credit check and other background checks as well as any other essential information. Having a strict application eliminates anyone that can't provide the most basic information you deserve to know if you are entrusting someone to rent from you. In the case of incoming students who are first time renters, their parents are the point of contact and any and all pertinent info about them is fair game. Also, consider having a nominal application fee upfront to cover the costs of a credit check. Be honest and transparent right up front (in your ad, first contact call or email) about fees associated with applying.
Most prospective tenants meet their landlords for the first time in person for a sit down and or a walk through of the apartment. This might be the third or fourth contact so far in the process and person coming to look at your place should be further along toward a final agreement. Just like at a job interview; appearances and gut first impressions are key. Nervousness is okay, but if anything seems out of place, suspicious or unseemly at a first glance be sure to take note. At the same time positive vibes can be quite natural, feel good and should help you trust your instincts over time.
You are almost always going to get many more applicants than the number of rentals you have available. It can be daunting to chunk down the list of viable candidates, but you might as well approach it with steadiness. You may wind up denying a perfectly capable person because of something small, but unforgivable. Remember this isn't personal, it's business. More than that renting to some one competent protects your investment in the long run. It is the critical eye and mind at this point that can save you from renting to a nightmare tenant and future eviction proceedings because you didn't keep you attention to detail up high.
Once you have made your final choice you can inform the winning applicant that you chose them and move forward to close the deal. This is the time when any lingering questions or details need to be resolved before signatures are exchanged and keys are handed over. Be strong and be fair at all times since you are setting the tone for the remainder of the relationship of landlord and renter at this moment. At the same time the same transparency and professionalism you show to your brand new tenant, extend it to the ones you did not chose as well. It may be awkward for some, but this is a good practice to reach out to those you didn't pick and let them know why. You never know if you might want to reach out to them in the future for another rental opportunity.