Monday, June 21, 2010

What responsibilities do owners have to screen their tenants?

Last week I blogged about an association’s need to know if the purchasers and tenants coming in to the community have a troublesome history elsewhere. What about the association member’s responsibility to similarly give some thought to the people moving in to their private properties?

Far too often, owners in communities where the boards screen potential renters rely entirely on that screening procedure an do not perform their own background checks on the people they are allowing in to their homes. Other times, owners have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which is odd considering that these owners, in most instances, are allowing strangers to move into their property.

For some owners, renting out the property means the difference between keeping the unit or home or losing it to foreclosure. It is important to remember, however, that certain tenants can wind up costing the owner/landlord a lot of money should that tenant do damage to the common areas or create a nuisance. After all, the owner is still the one that is on the hook for any damage his or her tenant inflicts on the community as well as for attorney’s fees and costs should the association sue for violations.

I’ve often wondered if some leases would still be executed if owners delved a little deeper into the backgrounds of their tenants. The recent, brutal killing of a Nova Southeastern University professor allegedly at the hands of his renter is a chilling cautionary tale. In that case, the professor was attempting to evict his tenant. A check of the tenant’s name in the Broward County court system would have revealed that the tenant had been evicted six times before by other landlords: once in 1995 and five other times since 2002, all related to nonpayment of rent.

While the vast majority of tenants prove to be wonderful additions to a community, potential landlords would still be well advised to check the names of potential renters through the clerk of the courts online system in their county. If past evictions are revealed, the landlord should seek further information about the nature of the eviction: nonpayment, conduct or both. There is no doubt that getting a tenant willing to rent your property these days is a welcome relief for many; however, that does not warrant throwing caution and common sense out the window during the process.


  1. We screened a potential tenant with a history of shooting a machine gun at a policeman. I understand that now we are no long permitted to check for criminal history. Is this true?

  2. Donna as far as a condo owner renting out their condo. In our community we developed a very tuff prescreening policy for both renters and people looking to buy a condo. My board felt that in these day and times and the condo prices hitting rock bottom many people are able to afford a condo now then there were before. However the risk for renting or buying a condo to someone who will default or of charter who never would have been able to live in the condo before is much higher now then it was once.
    Because of this our association came up with stricture guidelines for our interview process which we might have over looked before. An example of what l am talking about is as follows.

    1. First we changed our documents to reflect the percent of condos that can be rented. We went from 20% to 10% renters over owners.

    2. Next a background and credit report is required from the renter which they pay the fee. We know the owner is still the person who is responsible for making the monthly maintenance payments. But the reasons we take the credit report into consideration is if the owner of the condo walks away and no longer pays their monthly fees to the association then we can go to the renter to take the monthly maintenance payment out of the rent money. Another thing to consider why a credit report and background check is very import in the background check is because it will give your board a solid history of the charter of the people who are renting the condo..

  3. Michael,

    You can screen for criminal history assuming your documents provide for an approval process and screening of potential purchasers and potential renters. You must discuss with your association attorney the results of that screening and whether or not the candidate's background presents a real risk to the health, safety and welfare of hte community.