Determining Qualifying Criteria
Before detailing how to determine which criteria you will use for your applications, first be aware that you are legally required to inform your applicants of what they are. Making this information part of your application ensures that the applicant both has the opportunity to review the criteria and signs the document attesting as much. There are legal ramifications if this signature is not captured, as the presumption is by default that the information was not provided for review.
Details about the following criteria should be provided:
Specify which kinds of convictions and adjudications will disqualify an applicant. Establishing a clear timeframe will also better inform an applicant with a criminal background as to whether or not you will consider prior convictions from three, five, or twenty years or more in the past. Check out our previous post that discusses the criminal background check! Understand that requiring an entirely spotless criminal record is considered a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act. Otherwise, having a substantive reason for disqualifying based on certain other convictions and adjudications (namely violence, sexual offenses, and drug manufacturing and distribution) is reasonable.
Previous Rental History
You won’t be relying solely on the information provided to you by the applicant. Using a third party (or several) to verify rental history will help you to establish the kind of renters the applicants are. By having the applicant sign a release form, you will be able to inquire as to whether their rent was paid on time, whether or not any lease violations were documented, if there were any pets with the applicant, and what condition the property was left in. You are entrusting your property to your future tenant, and you want to know that it is in good hands!
The standard household income requirement is a gross total of three times the monthly rent. This comes from section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 which in 1981 was amended to state that a tenant must pay at least 30% of their monthly income towards housing. Between the rising cost of living and wage stagnancy, some renters in large cities are spending up to two-thirds of their income on housing. According to the 2020 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, one in four renters pays more than 50% of their income on rent. If this trend continues, you could expect (due to supply / demand) that income requirements will be reduced to asking that the total monthly household income is only twice the amount of rent. However, three times the monthly rent currently prevails as the industry standard and a change to that threshold is not on the horizon.
Many landlords have a flat credit score threshold for their applicants, while others prefer a context-based approach. Credit scores as we know them today began in 1989. As a landlord, you will most likely use credit reporting to screen your applicant for unpaid debts and other financial burdens that exist outside of their monthly income. While you may decide not to rely on the score itself, you will need to review the report for information that will be pertinent to you as a property owner such as unpaid utility bills, evictions filed against your applicant, and bankruptcies. The leading cause of bankruptcies in America is medical debt, with two-thirds of all bankruptcies filed due to the high cost of healthcare. Being informed of where exactly your applicants stand financially will help you make the best decision in your process.
Failure to provide accurate or complete information on the application form.
As previously discussed, online applications open the door to increased fraudulent activity. If at any point in the process you determine that documents, contacts, or any other information is fraudulent, you can deny based on this alone. If you can’t count on an application being accurate, then you can’t use it to qualify a tenant!
Keep in mind (as always!) that these qualifying criteria standards must fall within the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act. Meaning also that they must be applied to every applicant, every time, no matter what! Standardization not only makes for effective processing, it also protects you in the event that an applicant assumes that they have been unfairly disqualified for your property.
Adding another buffer between you and the applicants is also recommended! You can do this by hiring a qualified and experienced Property Manager who will screen applicants on your behalf. Frontline Property Management has a team of Property Managers as well as a department dedicated to processing applications. Our Tenant Coordinators work every day to handle incoming applications and find you the best tenant for your property!
Contact us today to learn more about how Frontline Property Management manages thousands of doors in Dallas / Fort Worth and surrounding area, and how you can turn your property into truly passive income!
Do you have a property that you need help with? Just fill out this form and we will reach out to you!
Speed vs Accuracy: Efficiently Finding Quality Tenants
The Dallas-Fort Worth rental market is one of many (and one of the most) competitive rental markets in the nation. Due to the upward-trending boom in Millennial and Gen Z populations, as well as the unexpected conditions of the pandemic and the Texas freeze – there is a crunch for renters applying to properties. You may have felt the crush of applications and with it, the anxiety of meeting such an increased demand. While it is better to have more options rather than fewer when it comes to applicants, as paperwork piles up you may find yourself rushing to approve someone for the sake of having it done.
Not so fast.
You want to find a tenant who meets the standards you hold for the property. While you are not holding out for the best possible tenant in existence, you do want a tenant who absolutely qualifies. With the increase in document fraud and online scams, reviewing your potential tenants with a fine-tooth comb is necessary. But how are you able to do so when you have multiple applications on one property? When you are processing them all yourself while also receiving calls and emails and texts from agents, interested parties and applicants following up on their applications? Here are tips on how to be efficient, effective and most importantly, accurate in reviewing your applications:
Use an Application Portal
In a competitive market, applicants have zero time to waste. As properties are being snapped up, they need to be able to apply as quickly as possible. That means not having to trek to your office to pick up an application.
An application portal guides applicants through the process intuitively. Portals that require a registration will help you better track your applications to easily parse the completed apps from those in progress.
State Qualifying Criteria Up Front
It is your legal obligation to require that every applicant review the qualifications for the property that you manage. This includes the income requirement, your policy on the credit history and criminal background check, pet policies (including breed restrictions) – absolutely everything that needs to be considered before submitting an application. Eliminating the most obviously disqualified applicants before they apply is sure to lighten your workload and save both you and the applicant some disappointment.
Charge an Application Fee
If you want everyone to participate in a program, you make it free. When you want to restrict participation to interested parties who can pay, you charge an admission fee. It’s also true of applications. Processing applications costs time, and running screenings for applications costs money, which justifies charging an application fee.
You may, however, consider a reasonable compromise for your applicants: If you don’t process their application, don’t process their payment. If you have spent no time on an application and did not run a screening, then the applicant paid only for the privilege of being on a waiting list. This can leave a bad impression with applicants who would otherwise try to rent with you at a later time, or if your accepted tenant falls through. Renting housing is a business, which means that customer service is something to consider. You are not legally required to refund application fees at all in Texas, as application fees are considered nonrefundable so long as the law is followed.
Process Applications on a First-Come, First Served Basis
Utilizing an application portal makes it easier to pin down when exactly an application is submitted. Prioritizing applications on a first-come, first served basis is the easiest way to stay compliant with the Fair Housing laws, eliminating the opportunity for any bias to come into play when reviewing multiple applications. You simply take whoever is first, and work that application.
There is a big however – just because an application is submitted first does not mean that the application will remain in first place. When reviewing multiple applications, if your first application is missing documents or information, move on to the next completed application in line while they get back to you. An application can fall from first place to second in line, and so on and so forth as more applications provide everything that is required. Keep the lines of communication open so that your applicant can have the opportunity to provide the materials, but by no means should you lose out on the next potential applicant waiting on the first. Remember, these applicants are moving very quickly in this market, so while you may have multiple applications, don’t mistake any as a guarantee. Many applicants are inquiring into several different properties at once. There is simply no time to waste. Communicate quickly about missing information and move on.
Once you have the broad strokes of receiving applications down, you’ll find it easier to work through your application list in an orderly, systematic manner. Creating a Standard Operating Procedure in this way will help you be consistent and organized in the face of waves of applications. Knowing when to move on, who is immediately disqualified, and where to narrow your focus will help you find the right tenant in the right time.
If this sounds like a job in and of itself – you’re right! Frontline Property Management has a department that is dedicated to processing applications for our clients! Our Tenant Coordinators work daily to communicate with potential tenants, review documentation, run screening reports and comb through the details so that our Property Managers have all the facts when reviewing the results.
Contact us today if you’d like to leave the application process to the professionals and start enjoying your investment as a truly passive income!
Have a property that you need help with? Just fill out this form and we will reach out to you!
Application Process: Fraudulent Digital Documents (And How to Spot Them)
We’ve previously given tips on the application process as well as how to manage a property from out of state (or from any distance from the actual property). However, as time marches on in the digital world, we face new challenges.
A feature of processing applications in the age of remote work and distance is the upsurge in falsified documents. Unfortunately, as it’s never been easier to conduct the entire application process online, it’s equally as convenient for applicants to create mock-up documents. Here are a few ways to help sharpen your eye when processing your online applications!
Processing documents whether online or in person will require a base knowledge of document types. Fraudulent documents are sometimes easier to identify in person due to the physical integrity of the documents, such as the particular lamination of a Driver’s License / State ID or the specific texture of banknote paper that Social Security Cards are made of. Being able to see and touch a document is handy, but online you will need to be familiar with the built-in security features that these documents have.
Texas Driver’s Licenses have changed multiple times, and the Under-21 IDs have a different orientation. Of course, you will have out-of-state applicants, so it will be handy to look up that state’s identification security features.
Social Security Cards have a history of carefully documented styles, which you will need to reference in relation to the date the card was issued. Other features make it difficult to forge, the noticeable of which are the font, print style and official seal.
Payroll statements are the most varied document that you will receive as a landlord. There is no standardized payroll sheet, and with the emergence of the gig economy, you’ll be looking at many more screenshots of direct payments than the traditional payroll. Being aware of different payment methods and payment processes will help you parse out the real from the fake.
A great deal of fraudulent documents can be discovered with a brief review. Fraudulent applicants make common mistakes and spelling errors. On a proper document, all of the information will be consistent, and everything will be spelled correctly. Street names will be properly capitalized and business will have the correct designation (LLC, Corp, et al). Obvious photoshop or image manipulation will be easily identifiable in the signature line and in photos. ID photos are produced on a very consistent basis to help with this, and should not appear to be edited and should be consistent with the security features of the given ID.
Simply proofreading the submitted documents can flag a document as potentially fraudulent.
Reverse Image Search
Those who create fraudulent documents aren’t usually masters of the craft. There are thousands of templates online, not so that there are options to commit fraud, but because we live in an age of entrepreneurship and there has to be a system of payment for small business. Unfortunately, this does leave the door wide open for people to create a false payment record for themselves. And because you’re a landlord and not the IRS, you have very little to compare it to! Luckily, there’s a handy tool in Google Reverse Image search. Rather than scrolling through pages and pages of online payroll templates, you can upload the image and find it much more easily. (We do live in the future, after all!). Of course, these templates are made to be used, so just because a template matches doesn’t mean it’s fraudulent. Using your proofreading will come into play here: often, the fraudulent document will use the exact same check and batch numbers as the template, which is incorrect for a proper business to do.
The easiest and most important step to implement into your application process is to follow up on the application. As part of the process, you should have a release form that is signed by your applicant. This authorizes you to request both rental and employment information from the appropriate parties. With minimum investigative work, you should be able to find a contact number for a company or previous residence. You do not have to rely on the contact information provided by the applicant, and it best not to. Independent verification of the applicant’s information is critical to the application process – it’s the whole point!
For every application you should be contacting the previous residence yourself and following up with the current employer to confirm current employment information. They are under no obligation to release the information to you, but it is both a matter of fairness and due diligence that you follow up on every application.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is! Finding a Property Manager who is effective not only at getting applications for your property, but also properly vetting them is key to finding a qualified tenant as soon as possible.
Reach out to Frontline Property Management today to explore the possibilities of never having to run your own applications again!
Do you have a property that you need help with? Just fill out this form and we will reach out to you!