Tenant Selection Criteria: How to Choose the Best Renter

One of the biggest fears that landlords face is the vacancy period in which their rentals sit empty. This is often followed by a second fear, which is a high tenant turnover rate. The average turnover rate is currently 47.5%, and although that’s the lowest level in 20 years, it’s still extremely high. 

Every time a tenant vacates a rental property, it costs landlords an average of $1,800. As a landlord, your best defense against having to go through costly, time-consuming tenant turnovers is to make sure you have great tenants to begin with. 

The Tenant Selection Process

The process each landlord uses to choose tenants must be thorough, legal, and effective. There are certain things that should be included in this process and other things that should not be.

What You Should Include in Your Tenant Selection Criteria

A basic tenant screening needs to include several things for maximum effectiveness. Landlords will want to verify employment and income, do a background check, and perform a credit screening of each applicant. 

If you’re a landlord, you’ll also want to do a reference check and verify rental history, as well.

Landlords will want to make sure that the applicant:

  • Makes enough income to cover rent, expenses, and utilities 
  • Has a steady work history
  • Maintains a decent credit score
  • Doesn’t have recent evictions or bankruptcies
  • Has a history of on-time bill payments
  • Does not have a history of dangerous criminal activity

It’s also a good idea to make sure that your prospective tenant has good references from previous landlords

What You Cannot Include

There are eight federally protected classes on which you cannot base the selection of your tenant. These protected classes are race, national origin, color, age, familial status, religion, sex, and disability.

These eight criteria do not affect a person’s ability to be a renter; therefore, it is illegal to base your decision on any of them.

How to Choose a Renter from Several Qualified Applicants

As long as your decision regarding your next tenant is compliant with fair housing laws and you’ve refrained from being influenced by any of the eight protected classes, you have the right to choose whomever you want as your next tenant.

Landlords may want to consider basing their final decision on a “first come, first served” basis. If not, there are some additional questions about each applicant that can be considered to help narrow the selection:

  • Why did they leave their last rental?
  • How long did they stay before leaving?
  • Do they have pets or smoke?
  • How do they spend their spare time?

Contact each applicant’s previous landlord and add more questions to expand your tenant selection criteria, such as:

  • Would you rent to them again?
  • Were they ever late on rent payments?
  • How could they have been a better tenant?
  • What are the hours they work?
  • How would you describe their overall character?

If you have two (or more) applicants from which you are having trouble choosing, focus on long-term finances. 

If one applicant can move in tomorrow but barely has enough income to pay rent and bills, and another applicant is more financially comfortable but cannot move in for another month, choose the second applicant. 

Don’t fall into the trap of choosing quick cash now at the risk of losing more over the long term.

How to Legally Deny an Applicant

Your tenant selection criteria not only helps you to choose a renter, but it can also help you know who to bypass. It may not be easy for you to deny applicants, but it goes with the territory of being a landlord.

There is a right way and a wrong way to deny an applicant. As a landlord, you don’t ever want to lie to a prospective renter; this can come back to haunt you later. Always make sure you have a legitimate reason for the rejection and make sure to tell them what that reason is. Do it in writing, if possible.

When an applicant is denied a rental due to their credit, the written notice is known as an adverse action notice. Be professional, polite, and direct. More than anything else, in order to legally deny an applicant, a landlord must be able to prove that every applicant was screened using the same tenant selection criteria. 


Start collecting rent online in less than 5 minutes.
  • Control when and how renters pay you
  • Automatically remind tenants when rent is due
  • Accept bank transfers and credit cards

**Blog Article Disclaimer*

This blog article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The content is intended to offer general information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

While we strive to keep the information accurate and up-to-date, laws and regulations are subject to change, and the legal landscape may vary based on jurisdiction. Therefore, we make no representations or warranties regarding the completeness, accuracy, reliability, or suitability of the information contained in this article.

Reading, accessing, or using the information provided in this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and the author, and any reliance on the information is at your own risk. If you require legal advice or assistance, it is crucial to consult with a qualified attorney who can consider the specifics of your situation and provide advice accordingly.

The author and the platform disclaim any liability for any loss or damage incurred by individuals or entities as a result of the information presented in this blog. We recommend consulting a legal professional before making decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this article.

This disclaimer is subject to change without notice, and it is the responsibility of the reader to review and understand the disclaimer before relying on the information contained in the blog article.

PayRent is on a mission to build a rent collection app that fosters a positive and productive relationship between renters and landlords. We focus less on transactions and more on the people behind them.


Subscribe to Our
Email Newsletter

Receive timely and relevant articles directly to your email inbox.
You can unsubscribe anytime.
We respect your privacy


Start collecting rent online in less than 5 minutes.
  • Control when and how renters pay you
  • Automatically remind tenants when rent is due
  • Accept bank transfers and credit cards

Discover the Truth About UFOs

Top secret documents reveal ET encounters the government has been hiding
freshmarketer CTA

Donate Today

To the Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good

Protect Yourself From Robots

Smart seniors get their robot insurance from Old Glory Insurance
freshsales CTA

Interested in PayRent?

Get a custom price quote when you schedule a demo.
*We won't share your information outside of our company

Protect Your Evictions

PayRent gives landlords the control to block
all or partial payments from their renters.

Protect Your Privacy

PayRent allows landlords to accept payments without
ever sharing their personal information with tenants.

Automatic Rent Reporting

PayRent reports rent payments to
all 3 credit bureaus at no extra cost.

Track Renter’s Insurance

Require Insurance and Track Documents with PayRent

Accept Credit Cards

PayRent makes it easy for Landlords to accept
Bank Transfers and Credit Cards.

Save Time With PayRent

Automate invoices, payments, receipts, late charges
and credit reporting with PayRent

Find This Useful?
Share it!

Like and Follow Us on Your Favorite Social Platforms