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Tenant Screening – here are three good screening tools, especially #2

In a recent poll with my Facebook group – Real estate Investment Resource Network, several members mentioned their three favorite tenant screening tools:

  1. Judgments
  2. A search of criminal records
  3. Credit checks

Credit checks have been a standard in the property management industry for decades, but judgments and search of criminal records are a little less commonly known.

What is a judgment?

When a person borrows money such as a line of credit or a credit card, they are legally required to repay the debt. Debts can also include billable services such as cell phone services and auto mechanics.

Why use a judgment for tenant screening?

If the debt is not repaid, the company, creditor, or collection can sue. If they are successful, the court issues a judgment against them, and the judgment creditor can try to collect the money.

How to get a judgment search?

In Alberta, simply make a trip down to the payment counter at the Court of the Queen’s Bench with the potential tenant’s name and ask for a judgment search. Judgments are public records so no permission is required. Fees are approximately $10.

What is a search of criminal records?

To clarify, a Criminal Record Check or Vulnerable Sector Check is not the same as a search of criminal records.

Why use a search of criminal records for tenant screening?

A search of criminal records provides public traffic or criminal records, which may be useful in assessing tenant suitability.

How to do a search of criminal records?

In Alberta, Civil actions in the Court of Queen’s Bench are searchable online or by clicking this link Criminal/Traffic Search Request (Provincial Court and Court of Queen’s Bench).

The court can search by name or file number, so filling in as much information as you have is important.

You can also access records filed with any court in Alberta (the Provincial Court of Alberta, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, or the Alberta Court of Appeal), by visiting any courthouse in Alberta with your search request.

Search fees are $10.

Here is the website: https://www.alberta.ca/rcas.aspx

Do you run searches of criminal records? I’d love to hear about it at [email protected]

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Credit Check

Credit checks are a standard screening method for landlords and property managers. Landlords are permitted to run credit checks for potential tenants, and tenants are usually familiar with how they work. Credit checks are helpful for landlords as they provide;

  • identity, current and previous addresses, and known employers
  • credit history, including credit card accounts, utility payments, phone bills, loans, payment patterns, credit card and loan limits, and co-signers
  • bankruptcies, liens or civil judgments, and evictions
  • a FICO Score

Although unlike the judgment and search of criminal records, where you can simply pay a fee and receive the report, credit checks require the tenant’s permission first.

Numerous landlord property management software programs and landlord groups offer credit screening services for fees ranging from $9.95 – $25.00 per report. To be granted permission to process credit checks, landlords are usually required to provide proof of ownership of the rental property and documents verifying identity. Once approved, you can process a credit report in just a few minutes.

How to interpret a credit report?

Most credit screening services recommend accepting tenants with a minimum FICO score of 600.  Tenants should have a decent credit rating if tenants pay their bills on time every month. Any rating lower than 600 usually means trouble,  such as a history of nonpayment of bills, liens, or collections.  

Disposing of tenant credit reports

Cybersecurity is a real threat; FOIP and PIPEDA legislation outline guidelines for destroying these sensitive documents. Be sure to follow them.

The Canadian government provides a summary of how to interpret a credit score.

Judgments, a search of criminal records, and credit checks are excellent methods of identifying red flags, but they shouldn’t be the only tool in your landlord’s toolbox. As a landlord, it’s necessary to consistently apply fair practice to all potential tenants. A thorough application form, landlord and work references, proof of identification, and recent pay stubs provide a full picture of the potential tenant and demonstrate you acted fairly.

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Nelda Schulte is a property investor who is passionate about helping investors who self-manage have profitable investment properties through resources and education. If you struggle with the wrong landlord forms, or worse yet, no landlord forms check out Nelda’s 10 Essential Editable Landlord Forms that help you separate the good tenants from the bad and increase your property’s profitability.

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