9 Common Myths About Tenant Screening

January 19, 2024

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Debunking Myths About Tenant Screening

As landlords, we understand the importance of tenant screening in ensuring the right individuals occupy our properties. However, in this realm, several misconceptions and myths that can cloud our judgment and potentially lead to poor decision-making. 

From trusting our gut instincts to solely relying on credit scores, it’s time to debunk these common myths and shed light on the truth behind effective tenant screening. 

By challenging these misconceptions, we can make more informed choices and create a harmonious living environment for tenants and landlords. 

So, let’s explore these myths, debunk them one by one, and discover the real factors that should guide our tenant screening process. 

Trust Your Gut 

While it is important to rely on objective criteria when screening tenants, there’s also value in trusting your intuition as a landlord. Although objective criteria such as credit checks, rental history checks, and background checks are crucial in assessing a tenant’s suitability, there are instances in which relying solely on these factors may not provide a complete picture.  

Ultimately, it’s crucial to strike a balance between intuition and objective criteria. Your intuition should be used as a supplementary tool to complement the objective screening process. It’s essential to follow legal guidelines and ensure that you are not discriminating against potential tenants based on personal biases or stereotypes. 

Note: When conducting a rental application, a social security number is often requested. This information helps verify a tenant’s identity and conduct background checks efficiently. However, if a tenant is uncomfortable providing their social security number, alternative methods such as a smart background check or a rental history check can be used to assess their suitability. It is important to inform tenants that providing their social security number is not mandatory, but alternative screening methods may be employed. 

Only Focus on Credit Scores 

While credit scores play a significant role in tenant screening, relying solely on them can be misleading. Other financial indicators, like income stability and debt-to-income ratio, are equally important in assessing a tenant’s ability to pay rent consistently. 

Additionally, considering a prospective tenant’s rental history can provide valuable insights into their reliability and responsibility as a tenant. 

Other Financial Indicators 

Another solid indicator beyond a credit score is an applicant’s income-to-debt ratio. This ratio reveals how much of their income is being used to pay off debts, giving an indication of their ability to meet their financial obligations. 

Additionally, looking at an applicant’s employment history can provide insight into their stability and reliability as a tenant. A consistent employment record shows a level of financial stability and the ability to make timely rental payments. 

Rental History Importance   

Financial indicators don’t paint the whole picture; a potential tenant’s rental past offers a deeper understanding of the applicant.  

By examining someone’s history, landlords can evaluate their payment history, their ability to adhere to lease terms, and their overall responsibility as a tenant.  

This information can help landlords make informed decisions about prospective tenants, ensuring that they select individuals who have a proven track record of meeting their rental obligations.  

Ability to pay Rent is all that Matters  

The ability to pay rent is a vital factor in the viability of any applicant. However, it’s not the sole determinant of a tenant’s reliability.  

Income alone does not guarantee financial responsibility, as credit scores can provide insight into an individual’s past financial behavior.  

Income Vs. Credit Score  

A common misconception in tenant screening is that the ability to pay rent is solely determined by income, overlooking the significance of credit scores. While income is undoubtedly important, credit scores provide valuable insight into a tenant’s financial responsibility and history of timely payments.  

A high credit score indicates a tenant’s reliability in meeting financial obligations, including rent payments. On the other hand, a low credit score may suggest a history of late payments or financial irresponsibility, which could pose a risk to landlords.  

Employment Stability Importance  

A steady job provides a reliable source of income, ensuring that the tenant can meet their financial commitments over the long term.   

It also demonstrates responsibility and reliability, indicating that the tenant is likely to continue meeting their rent obligations in the future.  

Conversely, tenants with an unstable employment history may struggle to maintain a consistent income, which could lead to missed rent payments or even eviction.  

You Must Pay for Tenant Screening  

Tenant screening is an essential part of the rental process, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always require a financial investment. Many landlords assume that conducting thorough tenant screenings comes at a price, but this isn’t necessarily the case. While there are paid tenant screening services available that offer comprehensive background checks and credit reports, there are also free or low-cost alternatives that can provide valuable information about potential tenants.  

One option for landlords is to conduct their own tenant screenings using online resources and public records. Local court websites, social media platforms, and professional networking sites offer insights into a tenant’s past behavior and financial stability. Additionally, landlords can request references from previous landlords or employers to verify a tenant’s rental history and employment status.  

Another cost-effective option is to utilize tenant screening services that offer free or discounted screenings to landlords. These services may be sponsored by local government agencies or nonprofit organizations and can provide basic background checks and credit reports at little to no cost.  

Beyond that, this is a cost that’s not uncommon to pass on to applicants. Depending on your business and situation, this may or may not make sense for you.  

Bad Tenants are Better than Vacancies  

Some landlords believe they should avoid vacancies at all costs. This, of course, can lead to nightmare scenarios with poorly vetted tenants. If you run into this kind of back luck, the regrets will be worse than any vacancy. The rationale behind this flawed thinking is that bad tenants at least generate some rental income, while vacancies mean no income at all. However, this perspective fails to consider the long-term consequences and costs associated with bad tenants.  

Bad tenants can cause significant damage to a property, leading to costly repairs and renovations. Moreover, dealing with problematic tenants can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. They may engage in illegal activities, disturb other tenants, or default on rent, leading to legal battles and eviction processes.  

Additionally, bad tenants can damage a landlord’s reputation. Word-of-mouth travels fast, and if other potential tenants hear about the issues caused by previous tenants, they may be less likely to consider renting from that landlord in the future. This can result in longer vacancies and financial losses in the long run.  

Thorough tenant screening significantly lessens the chances of bad experiences. This proactive approach can help minimize potential risks and create a positive rental experience for both parties involved.  

Ultimately, vacancies can be seen as an opportunity to find better tenants who will maintain the property, pay rent on time, and create a harmonious living environment. 

Checking Credit Scores Damages Credit  

Checking credit scores damages credit is a common myth that often leads to confusion and misinformation among tenants and landlords alike.   

The reality is that when a landlord or property manager requests a credit check, it’s considered a ‘soft inquiry’ or ‘soft pull.’ Soft inquiries don’t affect credit scores. They’re a simple way for landlords to assess a tenant’s financial responsibility and determine their suitability for renting a property.    

Credit scores are primarily affected by ‘hard inquiries’ or ‘hard pulls,’ which occur when a person applies for credit (e.g., a loan or credit card). These inquiries are recorded on the credit report and can have a small, temporary impact on the credit score. 

You don’t Need to Reach out to References  

While some landlords may think that checking credit scores and criminal backgrounds are sufficient, overlooking reference checks is often a costly mistake. References provide valuable insights into a tenant’s character and other intangibles that other inquiries like a credit report won’t uncover. 

By reaching out to references, landlords can gain a better understanding of a tenant’s past rental history, their payment habits, and their overall behavior as a tenant. This information can help landlords make informed decisions about who they allow to rent their property.    

Furthermore, references can offer a unique perspective that credit bureaus and background checks won’t illuminate. They can confirm or dispel any concerns the landlord may have about the tenant’s ability to follow rules, maintain cleanliness, or interact with neighbors.  

Despite all this, it’s key to remember that not all references may be reliable or unbiased, so you need to ask the right questions and verify the information provided. However, by conducting thorough reference checks, landlords can significantly reduce the risk of renting to problematic tenants.  

Asking Applicants to Prove Citizenship  

In the United States, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. This means that landlords cannot discriminate against individuals based on their citizenship status. Asking for proof of citizenship during the tenant screening process could potentially be seen as a violation of this act.   

It is important to remember that the purpose of tenant screening is to evaluate an applicant’s ability to pay rent, maintain the property, and be a responsible tenant. Proof of citizenship does not provide any relevant information in this regard.  

However, landlords and property managers can still request identification documentation as part of the tenant screening process. This may include a driver’s license or a social security number to verify an applicant’s identity and conduct a background check.  

Small Pets won’t be an Issue  

Many landlords and property managers assume that small pets will not cause any issues during the tenant screening process. However, this is a common misconception. While small pets may not cause as much damage as larger ones, they can still be a source of concern for landlords.  

Firstly, small pets can still cause damage to the property. They may chew on furniture, scratch walls and floors, or have accidents that can leave stains or odors. This damage can result in costly repairs and cleaning fees.  

Secondly, some tenants may have allergies or phobias related to small pets. This can lead to discomfort or health issues for the tenant, which may result in them breaking the lease or requesting accommodations that the landlord may not be able to provide.   

Lastly, small pets can also be a nuisance to neighbors. Excessive barking, meowing, or other disruptive behaviors can lead to complaints and strained relationships between tenants.  

To avoid these issues, landlords should consider implementing a pet policy that outlines the rules and expectations for tenants with small pets. This can include pet deposits, additional cleaning fees, and restrictions on certain breeds or sizes of pets. By addressing these concerns upfront, landlords can ensure a smoother tenant screening process and minimize potential issues related to small pets.  


In conclusion, debunking common myths about tenant screening is crucial for landlords and property managers. By relying on credit scores alone, neglecting references, or disregarding applicants’ ability to pay rent, potential risks may arise.  

It is important to trust your instincts while also considering objective criteria in order to make informed decisions. By debunking these myths, landlords can ensure a more successful and secure tenant screening process. 

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