Unfortunately, not all brokers and landlords have adopted the habit of thoughtfully screening potential renters. In fact, it’s quite common for the management teams in massive buildings to readily accept anyone with decent financial qualifications. However, if one’s goal is to fill their buildings with high-quality residents who will happily stay for at least a few years, then there is much more involved in the screening process.
Without a doubt, a potential resident’s financials are key. Brokers and landlords should check their credit, income, assets and employment record. Of those factors, credit is the most important as a proven ability to pay one’s credit card bills on time is very likely to equate with the ability (and willingness) to pay one’s rent on time, even if they may be lacking in assets. The second most important factor is employment. With the exception of students, it’s very important that renters have at least some type of steady income especially in a city such as New York where rents are so high. If someone’s financial situation seems a bit odd, it typically isn’t worth the risk of renting to them. Often, if people have bad credit, it’s because they have gotten themselves into a bad situation. With that said, there are instances such as extreme illness in which bad credit may be somewhat outside of a person’s control. However, entitled people who claim that their bad credit is an injustice and that they don’t have to pay on time should never become your residents.
During the screening process, both brokers and landlords should learn everything they can about a prospective resident’s personality. Brokers only have to work with the person for a few weeks, but a property manager may have to deal with them for several years. Thus, the temperament of potential renters should be of utmost importance to landlords. Of course, people are entitled to complain if there are legitimate issues with the building but the ability to bring a problem to the property manager’s attention in a respectful manner is paramount. Brokers and landlords should constantly be evaluating whether potential residents seem relatively personable. Red flags include people who aren’t respectful of the broker’s time or that speak in a curt voice. If someone mentions government agencies, such as saying that they need to check with the Department of Buildings, that could be a sign that they are litigious. It’s almost always a mistake to assume that someone who is difficult in the leasing stage would be any less difficult upon moving into the building.
Having worked primarily in landlord representation throughout my 15 years in the New York City real estate business, I always try to get to know prospective residents on a somewhat personal level. I ask them what they do for a living and whether they enjoy it as well as where they’re originally from and how long they plan on staying in the city. Although they may be basic, these types of icebreaker questions typically provide me with a solid sense of one’s agreeableness, or lack thereof.
These methods won’t completely ensure that all your renters will be top-notch. However, landlords will certainly increase their chances of boasting stellar lists if they do a bit more digging than just a cursory glance at the financials.
Adam Frisch was the exclusive residential broker for Sierra Real Estate before founding his own company, Sierra Residential, in 2013. He is now the managing principal of Lee & Associates Residential NYC, the first residential division of the national Lee & Associates brand.