A Landlord’s Guide to Screening Tenants

Many first-time landlords overlook the importance of evaluating prospective tenants to determine the likelihood the tenant will comply with the terms of the lease and maintain the rental property. Leasing to an unreliable tenant can have significant consequences for a landlord, including but not limited to: unpaid rent, legal fees and costs, and property damage.

Tenant screening generally begins with a carefully drafted rental application designed to collect personal information necessary to verify and evaluate a tenant’s employment, income, credit, and criminal and eviction history. The rental application may authorize the landlord to obtain a tenant screening report (a compilation of relevant credit and public records information). Personal information obtained in the rental application is also crucial when the landlord-tenant relationship goes awry. For example, failure to obtain certain personal information from a tenant at the outset of a tenancy can make collecting debts for unpaid rent, property damage, etc. very challenging when the landlord-tenant relationship ends.

The Washington Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hundtofte v. Encarnacion may prove valuable in preserving a landlord’s ability to access public records regarding prospective tenants. The case involved a frivolous eviction proceeding commenced by a landlord. Although the landlord and tenants settled the case, public record of the eviction proceeding had a negative impact on the tenants’ ability to find new housing. The tenants attempted to have their names redacted from the Washington Courts database, such that the eviction proceeding would be less likely to appear on a tenant screening report. The Washington Supreme Court held that the public’s interest in open access to court records outweighed the tenants’ interest in finding appropriate rental housing.

New landlords seldom realize the financial consequences of selecting the wrong tenant. When a tenant fails to pay rent or otherwise breaches a lease, the landlord may incur significant fees and costs in regaining possession and re-leasing the rental property. In the Spokane area, hard costs for an eviction proceeding alone (i.e. filing fees, service of process, writ of restitution fees, sheriff’s fees, etc.) generally exceed $500.00. Legal fees for an eviction may depend on the amount of time the landlord’s attorney is required to devote to the case. By way of example, a tenant who evades service of process can significantly increase legal fees and costs for a landlord and delay completion of the eviction proceeding.

If you are contemplating becoming a landlord, are having difficulties with a tenant, or have questions about evicting a tenant, a Spokane real estate attorney can help. Wolff, Hislop & Crockett has significant experience in commercial and residential evictions and prides itself on being a trusted legal resource for landlords in the Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Liberty Lake areas and beyond. Contact us today for a consultation.

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Wolff, Hislop and Crockett