Updated February 2022

New landlords and those unfamiliar with the rental industry may think the tenant selection process is limited to reviewing applications and taking potential tenants on rental property tours. However, there is more to the screening process than these two steps.

Many landlords automate the pre-screening process, so tenant applicants have already made it through one round of review before their applications are even submitted. How is this done, and why is it important?

Today, learn about pre-screening, so rental applications will be limited to qualified individuals, and get some ideas on how to automate the pre-screening process to make it as easy as possible. You might be amazed at how much time can be saved through this type of automation.

Table Of Contents: Automate The Pre-Screening Process

Today’s discussion about automating the pre-screening process is the third chapter of our “Tori vs. Harry” series, which shows the paths of two landlords through their tenant screening processes.

That knowledge will come into play as we discuss how to automate the pre-screening process.

What Is Tenant Pre-Screening, And Why Should You Care?

What Is Tenant Pre-Screening, And Why Should You Care?

What is tenant pre-screening, and why do experienced landlords find pre-screening an invaluable technique?

Tenant pre-screening refers to any process that ensures all tenant applicants who fill out a rental application are thoroughly informed on the rent, property policies, and other key parts of the rental process.

Often, applicants submit their forms without being fully prepared or qualified to rent the property. This leads to wasted time and money for everyone involved. By pre-screening tenants, you can limit the number of wasteful applications that you receive. This is a benefit to both you and potential tenants.

If you are working as a landlord, you are probably already using some standard pre-screening techniques without realizing it. Some of the most frequently used strategies include:

  • Setting up a phone call with a potential tenant before showing them the rental unit to ask and answer questions
  • Ensuring your rental listing is detailed and includes important facts such as the pet policy, smoking policy, monthly rent, and any other required fees
  • Listing your properties in specific locations to attract tenants who will be a good fit for your property

Each of the three tactics listed above serves to educate potential applicants upfront about renting the unit. This education helps reduce the number of people who apply even though they are not a good fit for the rental. Making all policies and expectations clear from day one is the critical point of pre-screening.

Why You Should Automate Your Pre-Screening Process For Tenant Applicants

The screening process is very time-consuming without considering time spent pre-screening applicants. Thankfully, you can reduce the total time spent by automating many aspects of pre-screening.

Automating pre-screening is an excellent idea because you do not need to be personally involved in this education process. As mentioned, the point is to ensure that potential applicants know your policies. This can be done in an automated way that is easy and acceptable to tenants.

Responding to every inquiry or message you receive about your rental unit individually as a pre-screening method may not be possible for many busy landlords. This is often why landlords wait to do any screening until they receive a completed application.

However, this is also why many landlords receive lots of applications that are not compatible with their rental units or policies. Uninformed or distracted applicants who don’t thoroughly read your listing apply without realizing that the rental isn’t right for their needs.

Pre-screening prevents this issue, and automating pre-screening prevents you from becoming overwhelmed with tasks.

Pre-Screening Tip #1: Indulgent Listings

Your rental listing is one of the first things potential tenants will see when looking for a rental. As they read the listing, an individual will decide whether or not they want to consider the property further. In addition to trying to convince them to consider being your renter, you always want to make sure they’re aware of what renting with you would look like.

In your listing, we always suggest that you include the following:

  • Rent amount
  • Your pet policy
  • Your smoking policy
  • Whether or not you run a background check
  • What type of income you expect to see on a rental application

Those five items will help the potential applicant identify if they’re a fit for your rental or not. Without going into too much detail about what you will look at, you will share enough information to eliminate applicants who are not a good fit.

Pre-Screening Tip #2: Automating Pre-Screening Emails

Automating Pre-Screening Emails

When setting up an automated pre-screening process, the best thing you can do is automate an email response for all rental requests.

It can be pretty frustrating when you get email replies to rental listings that seem like your listing was never read in detail. Even if applicants read the listing, it’s always good to reiterate key points and policies before you move forward to screen any potential tenant.

Setting up an email response doesn’t need to be complex; you can simply have your immediate response to any submitted forms include a few basic points including:

  • Important rental details (size, pet policy, smoking policy, rent amount, when the unit is available)
  • Key background check information (including income and credit minimums, if applicable)

Of course, you can add to this if you want to make your pre-screening even more robust and detailed.

Your automated response can be something as simple as the paragraph that follows:

  • “Thank you for your interest in my property at [address]. I’m excited to talk with you about the rental property and answer any questions you may have. As a courtesy, I have included primary details about the listing for your convenience below:
    [Monthly rent]
        [Smoking policy]
        [Pet policy]
        [Apartment size]
        [Availability date]
    Please email me back with a time and date convenient for you to talk about the property or schedule a tour if you are still interested. Thank you.”

See how simple it can be? By making alterations to this basic email template, you can create an auto-response that helps you pre-screen interested parties without sending out manual replies.

Additional Automation Tip: Try Calendly

Have you ever written a thorough rental listing only to receive multiple emails that ask, “How much is the rent?” Clearly, this person didn’t read your listing if they didn’t know the rent amount.

Another typical example of this issue at work is the person with two dogs, who just looks at pictures and the rent amount but doesn’t realize you have a “no pet policy.” Applications from these individuals waste everyone’s time.

We want to create a buffer between you and applicants who waste your time. In the video below, I’ll show you how to set up canned responses that will put your criteria front and center for a second time. Additionally, the response will share a link for them to choose a time to chat over the phone.

Calendly.com is free to use along with canned responses in Gmail. You can easily simplify your process by using Google Forms and Calendly to set up a tenant pre-screening form. Hopefully, the video helps you create an automated step between you and your applicants to reduce phone tag and unnecessary criteria questions.

Never Required, Always Recommended

Though we highly recommend pre-screening tenants as frequently as possible, it’s not required or necessary in all situations. Ultimately, it is your decision as a landlord whether or not to do this type of screening. While we’ve seen how it can save time and improve rental management efficiency, everyone is free to develop their own methods.

Whether or not you decide to pre-screen or automate your pre-screening, screening your tenants once you receive their applications is a must. You want to ensure they are truthful and have the necessary qualifications to become your tenant.

Tenant screening made simple is available right now from our products here at RentPrep. Check out our screening pricing and packages to see how your screening process can be made more effective and affordable starting today.

FAQs For Pre-Screening Rental Applications

There are many questions on how to best pre-screen tenant applicants. Here are the most frequently asked questions.

Can you pre-screen tenants?

Landlords who haven’t heard of pre-screening might be confused and concerned by today’s topic and wonder, is pre-screening tenants even legal?

Though you may not be familiar with pre-screening, that doesn’t mean it is illegal. As mentioned in the guide today, pre-screening is simply the term assigned to practices that you’re already doing. Pre-screening is all of the work you put into your rental listings and communicating with potential applicants before submitting their rental applications to ensure they are educated about the property and your policies.

Pre-screening in no way prevents a tenant from submitting an application or continuing to inquire about a unit, so there is no legal reason why you would not be permitted to pre-screen a tenant.

How do you handle multiple tenant applications?

When you receive multiple tenant applications for the same unit, it can be confusing to know what to do.

First, you should go through the applications quickly and remove any incomplete applications or applications that do not meet your minimum requirements, such as income amount or credit score. As you do this, make sure that you apply all criteria to each application equally.

During this step, you can also ask applicants remaining to do a background check so that you can compare those details as well. Getting more information might be vital to making your final selection.

That said, there are some regions where ordinances require that landlords accept qualified applicants on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means that you cannot charge multiple tenants to run a background check at one time and instead must work through tenants with valid, completed applications one by one.

Once you’ve narrowed down tenants to a short list of potential choices, you’ll want to do one of the following:

  1. Choose whichever application was submitted first
  2. Sort the applications by strength and then choose the first application

Remember to document your process and reasoning carefully in case any of the denied tenants are concerned about equity and fairness.

Finally, make sure you communicate to any denied tenants that they will not be getting the rental unit and why. Potential reasons include bad credit, false information on an application, a more qualified applicant being selected, and more.

Can a landlord accept multiple offers?

While you can legally communicate with multiple interested parties at one time while renting out a property, make sure that you are doing so carefully. Juggling numerous applications, as explained above, can require some careful thought.

As long as a landlord follows all rules and ordinances about rental applications in their area, they are permitted to accept as many applications as they want for a particular rental unit.

How do you vet a potential tenant?

Vetting a potential tenant is a significant part of the rental process. Often known as tenant screening, vetting a tenant is when you ensure that they have the necessary qualifications to rent your property. The biggest and most important part of vetting a tenant involves asking the right questions. In this YouTube video, we’ll go over the best questions to ask potential renters during the application process. We’ve even included a link to a survey template for you to get started.

The best way to vet a tenant is to have them submit a thorough rental application and follow up on their application with a background check. Once you can confirm the information gathered in the background check and on the rental application, it will become clear whether or not a particular applicant is a good fit for your property.

What are landlords looking for in a tenant?

Landlords often consider the following criteria when considering potential tenants:

  • Credit score
  • Rental history
  • Employment history
  • Current income
  • Financial history

By viewing these details, you can get a good picture of the type of tenant an individual would be and can make your final selection based on this information.

Of course, you are not required to use the exact details as other landlords when making your selection. If the only thing you care about is income and employment history, you do not have to consider credit score or rental history when making your choice. Landlords often develop their own priorities for tenant screening.

If you aren’t sure where to begin with tenant screening, getting help from a high-quality service like RentPrep that offers simple, straightforward screening options is a great choice.

Are rental offers legally binding?

If you offer to rent your unit to an applicant and send them a lease to sign, you should not send out another lease for the same unit to another applicant. It’s important that you honor the original offer.

Many landlords put a time limit on their offers, to ensure they do not get stuck in a loophole where the applicant doesn’t sign right away but still has rights to the lease offer. To prevent any confusion, be sure to clearly date all lease offers so that they expire if not returned in a reasonable amount of time.

Pre-Screen And Pre-Save Your Time

Pre-screening may seem like a foreign concept to some landlords, but you are probably already incorporating some pre-screening techniques without realizing it. Anytime you take a call and answer questions about your listing, you are actually pre-screening an interested party.

We all know how long it can take to respond to inquiries on your property, only to be met with no further communication. You can save everyone valuable time while reducing stress by learning how to automate your pre-screening process when tenant applicants initially reach out.

Don’t doubt the power of this simple automation. You’d be surprised at how effective pre-screening tenants with an automated email response can really be!