QUESTION: I disagree with your suggestions for screening prospective renters ("Screening Can Detect Unacceptable Tenants," Apartment Life, June 16). My credit is in the dumper, my checking account balance is much lower than the rent and my income is not that great.
I moved into this Los Angeles apartment on the strength of my prospective roommate's credit. He moved out of the apartment shortly after we moved in, leaving me here alone. Even while he was here, it was my responsibility to make sure the rent was paid.
I have been in this apartment for two years now and plan to remain for the foreseeable future. In that time I have paid my rent in full and on time every month. I have not damaged the place at all and I do not create disturbances or otherwise annoy the neighbors. All in all, I'm a very good tenant.
I can't begin to tell you the horror stories of some of my neighbors with barking dogs, loud parties and the like.
Yes, look into evictions, whether the person writes bad checks, and confer with previous landlords. In short, check anything to do specifically with tenancy and payment of rent.
Even though I have had problems at times in paying some of my bills, I always make sure that I have the rent at the end of the month.
Average balances, credit reports and the like do not tell you about the most important needs of a landlord: a good, reliable, honest tenant who doesn't wreck the place, disturb the neighbors, stays awhile, and pays the rent . Don't you agree?
ANSWER: I agree. And although I didn't mention income standards as a criterion for selecting renters, a recent court case says that a standard requiring three times the monthly rent in income is legal. It's also fairly standard these days.
In the column you refer to, I said landlords should check out prospective tenants based upon the following: credit; bad checks; evictions; banks; references; current and former landlords; dwelling places; and employment. I stand by those recommendations, and add your "income standards" to the list. I did not prioritize the problems. I will do so now.
Evictions: This is probably the No. 1 concern of landlords--has the prospect been evicted and under what circumstances.
Current and Former Landlords: Of course, as I said previously, the reports of former landlords carry a lot more weight than those of current landlords, who may say anything to get rid of a problem renter.
Credit Reports: Like it or not, most landlords place great store in such reports. Of course, almost all will take your mitigating circumstances into account when reviewing your credit.
Income Standards: Landlords want to be assured that you can afford the apartment. Sometimes, applicants legitimately believe they can afford apartments with very little income left over after paying the rent. They often can't make ends meet, causing an eviction.
Employment: Landlords like people who work at the same jobs, and live in the same apartments, for long periods of time. Stability on these two counts is always a big plus.
Bad Checks: It's not their biggest concern, but landlords tend to believe that if you write bad checks to others, you may do it to them.
Banks: Many landlords don't even check these. The information they provide is of negligible value at best.
Dwelling Places: While most landlords don't check their prospective renters' current dwelling places, a few do. In your situation, it should be a request. And while the landlord is visiting, he can check with the neighbors, who can, and often do, provide him with a wealth of information.
References: References usually rank last on a landlord's list of tenant screening priorities. (It's easy to get a few of your friends to talk about you in glowing terms.)
Those are the standard tenant screening checks, roughly in order of importance, used by most landlords screening prospective renters. They're not likely to change in the near future.
Between now and the next time you rent an apartment, try to get some of your credit problems resolved. If you are showing efforts to correct past indiscretions, getting an apartment with a bad credit report will be a lot easier than if you do nothing.