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Choosing and selecting a tenant for your rental property

Maybe you’ve acquired a rental property. Maybe you’ve moved into a new home, and have decided to rent out your old one. Maybe you’ve purchased a condo, or completed a basement suite in your home, solely for the purpose of getting that extra rental income.

However it’s come about, you’re getting into the landlord game. How do you find and choose a good tenant?

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Finding a tenant with an advertisement

Preparing the right ad is crucial for finding a tenant online. You’ll need to write an ad that not only describes your property, but also sets it apart from all the other rental properties being advertised.

Start with an eye-catching headline. Use positive, descriptive words like “spacious,” “sunny,” or “immaculate.” Focus on the most appealing aspects of your property, and don’t try to cram in details like number of rooms, or even the rent. The headline’s purpose is to make prospective tenants click on your ad; they’ll learn the details after they do that. Some examples of how to write a headline:

Charming family home near Central Elementary School, minutes from downtown.

Spacious apartment in new waterfront building, just steps from entertainment district.

Next comes the body of your ad. First, describe your property, and be as expressive as you can. Think about the type of tenant you want, and try to appeal to that person. For example, if you hope to rent to a family, mention how the apartment has a spacious backyard with a swimming pool, or that it’s close to schools. Use language that will create an emotion:

  • “Enjoy the sunset from our unique rooftop deck.”
  • “Be a part of a vibrant community.”
  • “Leave your car at home and walk to all your favourite shops and restaurants.”

After you’ve eloquently described your property, give the details. Rental ads should include information about:

  • Amount of the rent
  • Availability date
  • Location
  • Size (square footage, and number of bedrooms/bathrooms)
  • Appliances (in-suite laundry, dishwasher, etc.)
  • Parking
  • Nearby amenities
  • Proximity to transit
  • Pets and smoking policies
  • Included utilities

Including plenty of information helps reduce the number of inquisitive phone calls and helps you focus on potential tenants who are genuinely interested in your rental.

Always include photos of your property and location. It’s worth making extra effort to get great photos, and some people even hire a professional photographer. If you can, take photos of the space after previous tenants have moved out and the space has been cleaned. Apartment hunters don’t want to see photos of cluttered, lived-in spaces. If the unit has a great view, be sure to include a photo. This will definitely attract attention.

Don’t forget to include your contact information in the ad: name, phone number, email address. You want to make it easy for potential renters to contact you.

Place your advertisement

If you’re looking to find a tenant without using an agent, the best way to get the word out is to advertise in a variety of places. But also consider your target market. If you’re renting out a luxury condo, you likely won’t be advertising in the same places as when you’re renting out a basement bachelor suite.

Craigslist or Kijiji

The most important places to list your rental are craigslist and Kijiji. These two sites are the first stop for almost anyone looking for a place to live, and listing on either site is free. These sites make it simple and convenient to place your ad, and it’s easy for potential tenants to search. They don’t limit your word count, so get creative and really make your ad stand out. Attach at least four colour photos; one of the outside of the building, four of the inside.

Zumper

Zumper is a relatively new site that combines rental listings with other services for landlords. Most of the additional services are not available in Canada, but you can advertise available rental properties. Posting a listing on Zumper is free. By listing on Zumper, your property will also appear on rental search aggregators such as PadMapper or Walk Score.

Social media

Put postings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to let everyone know you have a property to rent. Posting on social media also get’s your property in front of potential tenants for free. In the case of Facebook, you can post your listing on Facebook Marketplace quickly and easily. Once it’s added to Marketplace, you can also post it in rental groups that are specific to the area.

Instagram can be a valuable tool as well. Take a few beautiful photos of the space, and post them to your Instagram account. Use photos that are brightly-lit and colourful. Feature rooms that are exceptionally neat and tidy (or empty). If you really want to go the extra mile, you can stage the rooms. When you post the photos, make sure to add the location tag! People interested in the area may stumble upon the post. You can also include a link to the Instagram post on your craigslist, Kijiji, or other ads to give potential renters a few extra photos to entice them.

Newspaper

Many people still go to the newspaper, especially on the weekends, to look for rental properties. Advertising here is NOT free, but you can keep the cost down by abbreviating common terms. Use br for bedroom, or w/d for washer/dryer, for example. Newspapers will sometimes have package offerings, giving you two days in print as well as two days online, for instance. There are usually a certain number of lines included in the base price, with an extra charge for each additional line. Despite the need for brevity, it’s still important that your ad include specifics and details to avoid having too many people calling you simply asking for more information, or skipping over the ad altogether. If you wish, you can use a service like TinyURL to create a short URL you can include in the ad that links to your posting on Kijiji, craigslist, or social media.

Here is an example of a poor newspaper ad that doesn’t provide enough details:

New house w/ 3 br. Big yard. Come have a look. 855-331-6933.

This is an example of a much more effective ad:

3 br/2 ba near 10th and Main. 2500 sf. $2200/mo. Util incl. Nwly ren. All-new appl. w/d. View photos at tinyurl.com/XxxXxxxx. Call Leeroy 855-331-6933.

Sign in the window

It may sound old-fashioned and low-tech, but consider placing a sign in the window of the unit you have for rent. Someone may be interested in moving to the area, or have a friend who’s interested and will spot your sign when walking or driving through the neighbourhood. The more information you can include on the sign, the better, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, monthly rent, and the move in date. This will prevent people calling just for information. Be sure to include your phone number in large print, visible from the street.

Word of mouth

Tell everyone you know that you have a place for rent. They may know somebody who’s looking to move to your area.

Local bulletin boards

Put up a flyer at community centres, grocery stores, or libraries in the rental property’s neighbourhood. Again, consider your target market. Are you going to post your ad in an upscale specialty supermarket, or in a college cafeteria? Make your flyer eye-catching by including colour photos, and don’t forget to include tear-offs at the bottom of the sign with your contact information and the address of the property.

Wait for responses from potential tenants

With the right ads in the right places, you’ll have no problem finding people who are interested in renting your property. Then it’ll be up to you to choose the tenant you want to entrust with your valuable real estate. You may want to get your property rented quickly, but don’t jump at the first person who’s interested. You want tenants who are responsible, pay their rent on time, and will take care of your property as if it was their own.

Once you start receiving responses to your ads, what comes next?

Meet with tenants and collect applications

Telephone Screening

When someone contacts you with interest in the property, you can do an initial telephone screening right off the bat. Prepare a short list of questions to ask interested renters. If you ask the same questions of everyone, it makes comparing potential tenants easier. When preparing your questions, keep things simple at this stage. At this point, you’re only trying to weed out the obviously unsuitable tenants. You can ask things like:

Physical rental applications and property viewings

If they pass the telephone screening, you can arrange for them to look at the property. If there is a lot of interest in the home, you may want to set up multiple viewing times on specific evenings. This way, you can keep things organized, and you won’t have wasted a bunch of time if someone is a no-show. When scheduling viewings, schedule them 10-15 minutes apart. This gives you time to chat with each prospective tenant before the next one shows up. Additionally, when people arrive at the viewing and see someone else being shown around, it creates the impression that the property is in-demand. This can result in quicker decision making on the part of potential tenants.

If someone is interested in renting the property, have them complete an in-depth application form. Some provinces provide standard rental application forms. Even if your province doesn’t, these forms are fairly standard and you can find many templates online. Here are some example rental application forms.

Review applications and conduct background checks

Note that when screening prospective tenants, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation advises that you can only ask questions that will help you assess the suitability of a tenant. You cannot infringe on the rights of the tenant under the Human Rights code for your province. For example, you cannot ask about:

  • Family status: Do you have kids? Do you plan to have kids?
  • Marital status: Are you legally married? Do you plan to get married?
  • Gender or sexuality: Are you a man or a woman?
  • Ancestry, place of birth, or citizenship: Are you a Canadian citizen? Where were you born?
  • Religious affiliation: Are you Christian? Do you celebrate Ramadan?
  • Mental or physical health: Are you disabled?

Even if you’re in a hurry to get your property rented, take the time to review the applications and do background checks. Any time spent now will save you time and money in the long run.

Your rental application should include a release allowing you to obtain information from employers, previous landlords, and credit bureaus. Once you obtain the signed application and release, don’t just accept the information provided. Contact previous employers and landlords.

Credit history

In Canada, with the consent of the prospective tenant, you can obtain a credit check from Equifax Canada or Trans Union Canada. You can also contact Rent Check Credit Bureau, a credit bureau strictly for the housing industry. (You need to be a member of a credit bureau to obtain a credit check.)

Employment

Contact the prospective tenant’s employer to confirm their employment status. Ask questions like

  • How long have they been employed?
  • What is their current position?
  • Full or part-time?
  • What is their salary?

References and rental history

Check any references provided. Get the contact information for the previous landlord, and if possible, the previous 2 or 3 landlords.

  • When was this person your tenant?
  • How long did they live there?
  • Were they late paying the rent?
  • Did they own any pets?
  • Was the home damaged, beyond normal wear and tear?
  • Did they give you proper notice when they were moving out?
  • Would you rent to this person again?

Making the final decision

You’ve listed the property, collected the applications, and called the references. If you’re lucky, one applicant will stand head and shoulders above the rest, making your decision easy. That’s not often going to be the case, however. How do you make the final call?

Financial stability

You definitely want a tenant with a good credit score. It’s not perfect, but it’s a reasonable indicator that they’re going to be able to pay their rent on time, month after month. Favor tenants who have generally been stable, staying for several years at each of their past homes and jobs. A tenant who’s hopped around to new apartments every year is likely to continue that trend, and you may be starting your search over again sooner than you’d like.

Who seemed trustworthy?

If you’ve reached this point in the process and you’ve got several good candidates, ultimately you may just have to trust your instincts. If anything sounded a bit odd when you met the applicant or spoke with their references, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe that’s a reason to disqualify them. Selecting a tenant is not an exact science, but if you’ve done your due diligence as we’ve outlined here, you’ll have success far more often than not.

For more information, or to get a landlords insurance quote, contact Square One at 1.855.331.6933.

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