Why You Should Always Screen Potential Roommates Before Signing a Lease

Being a landlord is challenging. It’s even harder when you’re renting out a room in your own home. You’re not only tasked with handling repairs quickly, but you’ve got to find the right roommate to start with. If you don’t choose the right housemate, you may never get them out. Or worse, they might destroy your property.

Given the difficulty of finding perfect tenants, it’s understandable if you want to fill your vacant room as fast as possible, judging applicants based on your instincts. However, it’s never a good idea to skip the tenant screening process. Intuition isn’t always reliable and bad tenants can be great deceivers. You don’t want bad tenants in a rental property and you certainly don’t want bad tenants living in your house.

Tenant screening gives you peace of mind. What if you don’t screen your new housemate and you end up renting to a convicted felon? 

If you need a good reason to start screening your housemates, here are 3 reasons never to skip the tenant screening process.

1. Bad tenants can present exceptionally well

Bad tenants don’t always look like bad tenants. Sometimes, bad tenants show up to submit their application in a 3-piece suit, speak politely, and drive a nice car. Sometimes, bad tenants have a high-paying job and excellent credit. However, when you follow up with their references and past landlords, you might find a sketchy rental history and a pile of court cases involving multiple landlords.

Often, bad tenants try to prevent landlords from screening them by giving some kind of a sob story. For example, the most common story is that they need to move in right away – within 24 hours – or they’ll be living in their car. Some bad tenants are willing to pay a higher deposit just to get in quickly to force the landlord to skip the screening process. What’s the harm in renting a room quickly to someone who desperately needs a place to stay?

However, if the tenant is a professional tenant, they’ll pay rent for the first month or two and then stop. Then, they’ll force the landlord to file an eviction lawsuit, refuse to leave, destroy the property, and then drag the landlord through the court system for months on end. This scenario is exactly what a man named Mark Newton did to his landlords for nineteen years in a row.

2. Bad tenants can become squatters overnight

If you rent a room to a bad tenant and give them notice to vacate, it could take more than a year to get them out. Meanwhile, you risk having them turn into squatters by locking you out of your own home when you go to work.

In this type of situation, police can’t always intervene, even when you can prove you own the house. Even if you own the home, you have to go through a formal eviction process to get someone out. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, squatters have rights and it’s illegal to change the locks on a squatter or move their belongings out of your home.

In the end, encountering a bad tenant will have cost you time, money, energy, and sanity. The only way to avoid this type of situation is to thoroughly screen your tenants – regardless of how much you want to help them through their alleged unfortunate circumstances.

3. Landlord-tenant lawsuits are not easy to fight

Unless your case is cut and dry, you’re in for a legal challenge as a landlord. Most laws favor tenants far more than landlords. For example, in Washington state, it’s now a law that landlords may not give tenants no-cause notices to vacate. Landlords in Washington can no longer give a tenant notice to vacate without “just cause.” Landlords must provide a valid reason for giving notice, and the reasons are pre-determined by the new law.

If you do anything incorrectly with an eviction, your entire case could be thrown out. If that happens, your tenant could win the right to occupy the premises until or unless they commit a lease violation like not paying rent or having a prohibited pet.

Ask questions as part of your screening process

When you’re looking for roommates, especially if you have a family, ask in-depth questions in addition to performing credit and background checks. Make sure the person you rent to is considerate, reasonable, and willing to help out around the house. Most importantly, put everything you agree to in the lease. Don’t take their word that they will mow the lawn every other week. 

If you do end up with a bad tenant, your lease will be the only recourse you have to hold them accountable.