Rental Application Process (Part 2 of 6): Documents to Provide Prospective Residents; Screening Criteria

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Documents Provided To Prospective Residents

In addition to the Statement of Policy which includes copies of the rules and rental agreement, you should provide the applicant the following:

• Criminal check authorization
• Resident applicant screening fee should be acquired prior to accepting the individual as a resident. “Application Screening Fee and Receipt” form is to be signed by a manager when applicant’s fees are accepted.
• The landlord must give written notice of what the tenant screening or consumer credit report entails, the landlord’s charge for the screening, and the applicant’s right to dispute the screening service or credit reporting agency’s information if the application is denied based on the credit report.
• Minimum Screening Criteria Standards

At this point the above documents are to be provided to the prospective applicant. However, only the application, the criminal check authorization, the Statement of Policy receipt, and the applicant screening fee notice and receipt should be signed by the tenant. The Rental Agreement and Rules should never be signed by the prospective resident until after management approval of occupancy.

Screening Criteria – Minimum Standards

Your “Screening Criteria” is another important document that should be provided to an interested applicant. This is the document that will determine where you draw the line between acceptance and denial. Your “Screening Criteria” is a written statement of the factors the landlord considers in deciding whether to accept or reject an applicant and any qualification required for acceptance. What can you have on that list? Look at your standard rental agreement. If you’re using the MHCO form, it contains a list of criteria. Your Screening Criteria should consist of the same items, although you may want to refine some of the requirements, such as financial capacity to afford the space rent (e.g. debt to income ratios), etc.

Here is a brief list to get you started: unsatisfactory rental references, the absence of any prior tenant history or credit history, unsatisfactory character references, criminal history, bankruptcy filed in the past two years, payment of rent problems, no social security number, and inaccurate information on the application, insufficient debt to income ratio. All of these are reasons for denial – it is up to you establish them as a basis for acceptance into you community. For example – maybe you accept applicants with felony conviction that are 20 years or older – it is up to you to include that on your screening criteria.

Remember to apply your criteria uniformly in all applications. Do not make exceptions. The question of whether you denied one person and accepted another could be tied to a potential discrimination case. Save yourself the agony of these situations – write a “screening criteria” and apply it uniformly. Used properly and consistently it can be a tool that keeps you above any suspicion of discrimination. The one limit on your screening criteria is that you cannot deny residency to anyone because of his or her race, color, sex, handicapped status, familial status, national origin or sources of income. However, you can deny tenancy to anyone – even if they are in a protected class – if they do not meet any of the minimum criteria that you establish in your screening criteria. Often potential applicants will “self-screen” themselves by reading your “screening criteria” and realizing that they do not qualify, thus saving you and the potential applicant time and energy.

Screening/Admission Criteria: This may include:

• Unsatisfactory rental references
• Applicant must be 18 years or older
• Provide two pieces of identification, one with each applicant’s photo from a government office (i.e. Driver’s License, State ID Card, Passport) and Social Security Card
• Be gainfully employed or have verifiable income from retirement, social security or periodic income.
• If the community is either an “age 55 or older” or an “age 62 or older” Community, you must provide proof that you meet the age requirements
• The absence of any prior negative tenant or credit history
• Unsatisfactory credit history or no credit history
• Unsatisfactory character references
• Any criminal history (You may wish to distinguish felonies from misdemeanors, or crimes of violence versus non-violent crimes, or the lapse of time since conviction, etc.)
• Insufficient income to reasonably meet the monthly rental and other expense obligations
• Presence of pets or the number, type or size of pets
• Evidence that the prospective tenant has provided landlord with falsified or materially misleading information on any material items
• If the prospective tenant refuses to sign a new written rental agreement or lease agreement
• The number of additional occupants
• Adverse information contained in the public record

Additional criteria may include:

• Minimum two-year verifiable references with previous landlords
• No payment of rent problems over the past two years
• Two years of verifiable employment
• No criminal convictions
• No tax liens
• Sufficient income to pay all outstanding obligations after payment of rent
• Any individual who is a current illegal substance abuser, or has been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance will be denied tenancy
• Any individual or pet/animal whose residency would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals.
• If pets are permitted they must meet the requirements of state and local laws, ordinances, and the Community in regards to number, size and breed. Farm animals, exotic and/or wild animals, livestock and certain breeds of dogs. You should list breeds of dogs that are not allowed in your community (Note that if the animal is presented as a “Service Animal” there are special rules that may limit your ability to reject. In some cases, it is wise to first seek legal advice before rejection.)
• You may want to set a percentage of net-income that should be left over after meeting all financial obligations.
• Homes must be owner occupied – no subleasing

You MUST post your community’s screening criteria publicly in the office and provide written copies to all prospective residents.

Take your time! If the application is incomplete immediately return it with the explanation you can only process completed applications. If you think you will need more time, you can insert a longer time on the application, such as 15 days. Make sure the prospective resident signs the application agreeing to this. Don’t make snap judgments. Remember that Oregon law provides that a landlord or manager “may not unreasonably reject a prospective purchaser as a tenant.” You will be required to give a written notice of rejection, so make sure you have given proper consideration to the basis for rejection. It is a good idea to maintain all rejected applications and supporting information for a period of at least three years. Tenant screening is a very important part of community management and it should not be done without reason and consistency. Tenant screening cannot be based on your personal feelings or emotions.

Remember - the “Ideal Resident”:
1. Pays the rent on time.
2. Keeps the outside of the manufactured home and the space in a clean and well maintained manner.
3. Does not litter, damage or destroy community property.
4. Does not disturb the neighbors.

The key to identifying the “Ideal Resident” is a thorough and complete processing of the rental application and the supplemental verification forms, combined with a personal interview of the prospective tenant. “Snap judgments” or a “hurry to rent the space” must be avoided.

A thorough screening is your best resource for finding good residents. Current residents in surrounding home sites will feel more secure knowing their neighbors have also been screened.