Here’s how long each step of tenant screening usually takes

Generally, tenant screening can take a few hours to several days. It’s not set in stone because the time frame may vary due to several factors, such as the applicant’s responsiveness, the accuracy of the information provided, and the number of applicants you need to screen.

In this article, we explain the components of tenant screening, including credit checks, background checks, employment verification, and references, and explore how each impacts the length of the process. We also share some best practices for conducting tenant screening efficiently and effectively.

Remember that while speed is essential, thoroughness is key. The goal is to ensure you’ve done the screening process right, not just quickly. After all, tenant screening is more than just a box to check; it’s a way to safeguard your investment.


What does tenant screening include?

Tenant screening isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. It’s a combination of different assessments, each with its own importance and time frame. Let’s break down each element to understand why they matter and how long you can expect them to take.

Credit check

Examining an applicant’s credit history provides insight beyond their ability to meet their rental obligations. It’s an indicator of their financial habits, responsibility, and reliability. Depending on the tenant screening service you use, you can usually complete a credit check within 2–3 hours.

While a credit check reveals defaults, bankruptcies, or late payments, it also uncovers patterns, such as how frequently the applicant seeks new credit or how they handle their revolving credit lines. These nuances can offer a valuable glimpse into their financial behavior.

Although a credit score is a helpful gauge of a potential tenant’s financial reliability, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Other factors like income stability, employment history, and past rental behavior are equally crucial.

Background check

Tenant background checks disclose more than just criminal history. They can reveal civil records like evictions or lawsuits, which are just as critical for landlords to consider.

A clean background check can give you peace of mind. You’ll have more confidence that a tenant won’t use your rental property for illegal activities, and there may be less likelihood of disruptive behavior affecting other tenants or neighbors.

Typically, background checks can be ready within a few hours, but some may take up to two days, especially if there are records in multiple jurisdictions.

Employment verification

Employment verification provides proof of income and insight into a potential renter’s financial stability. Frequent job changes might suggest instability, which could potentially affect timely rent payments in the future.

When verifying employment, requesting pay stubs or tax return documents directly from the applicant is often best. That ensures you get accurate information straight from the source. Be wary of discrepancies in income or job titles, as these could indicate misrepresentation.

This step can typically take 1–3 days since it may involve contacting HR departments or waiting for documentation from the applicant.

Personal references

Personal references offer a more intimate view of the applicant. They can shed light on character traits not apparent in financial reports or background checks.

When speaking with personal references, consider asking open-ended questions that allow for more than “yes” or “no” responses. This approach can yield more insightful and valuable information about the applicant. However, be mindful of overly glowing reviews, as they might not always present an entirely accurate picture.

This process can take a few hours to a couple of days and usually depends on the availability and responsiveness of the references provided.

Previous landlord references

Previous landlord references offer a glimpse into the applicant’s past rental history and behavior, information that credit checks or employment verification often can’t supply. They can reveal patterns of behavior that might affect the tenancy.

Despite its importance, landlords and property managers often overlook this step due to the time it takes and the potential challenges of contacting previous landlords. However, the insights gained from this step can significantly impact your decision.

To get the most beneficial information, consider asking specific questions, such as:

  • Did the tenant consistently pay rent on time?
  • How well did the tenant maintain the property?
  • Were there any instances of disruptive behavior or complaints from neighbors?
  • Did the tenant adhere to the terms of the lease agreement?
  • Would you rent to this tenant again?

These questions help paint a more complete picture of the kind of tenant an applicant might be. While contacting previous landlords may take some effort, the information gleaned is often vital in making an informed decision about prospective tenants.

Similar to reviewing personal references, this can take a few hours to a few days.


How do various factors impact tenant screening time?

  • Applicant responsiveness: As long as an applicant provides the necessary documents and information quickly, the process can move swiftly. However, if they drag their feet, it can significantly slow down the process.
  • Accurate information: The accuracy of the information provided by the applicant is also crucial. Inaccuracies or discrepancies take additional time to verify and correct, which extends the screening period.
  • Number of applicants: Each application requires a thorough review, from checking references to verifying employment history. The larger the pool, the more time tenant screening can take.
  • Comprehensive background checks: While thorough background checks are a must, they also add to the screening time. The more detailed they are (including credit reports, criminal history, and past evictions), the longer the screening process is likely to take.
  • DIY screening: Doing everything yourself may seem cost-effective and manageable, but if you’re managing multiple properties or new to the rental business, it could lead to delays, potentially causing qualified renters to look elsewhere.


Best practices for conducting tenant screening

Following these best practices can ensure a comprehensive screening process and help streamline it, reducing potential delays. Here are 5 essential practices to consider:

  1. Set clear criteria: Before beginning the screening process, establish a clear set of criteria your potential tenant should meet. That could include income requirements, credit score ranges, or pet policies. Having this clarity upfront can speed up the initial review of applications.
  2. Use a standardized application form: A standardized application form lets you collect the same data from every applicant, making comparison straightforward and efficient. You can also gather all the information you need right from the start.
  3. Communicate expectations: Let applicants know about the screening process, what it involves, and the estimated timeline. That can encourage them to respond promptly and provide accurate information, helping to avoid delays.
  4. Stay compliant: Familiarize yourself with fair housing laws and local regulations to avoid any legal complications. While this may add to your workload, non-compliance could lead to time-consuming and costly legal issues down the line.
  5. Automate where possible: Technology can be a beneficial screening ally. Using automated tools for credit checks, background checks, and reference verifications can save considerable time.

Check out our tenant screening checklist here to help you navigate the tenant selection process and prevent potential headaches.


Ready to streamline your tenant screening process?

With Stessa, you can run credit and background checks directly in the platform with RentPrep’s integrated tenant screening service. In fact, Stessa offers a comprehensive suite of leasing tools designed to make your life easier. Everything is in one place, from listing vacancies and collecting applications to conducting thorough screenings and signing leases.

Don’t let the complexities of screening tenants slow you down. Sign up for a free Stessa account today and experience a seamless tenant screening process.


The post Here’s how long each step of tenant screening usually takes appeared first on Stessa.

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