David Vs Goliath: Punish Those With No Credit or Landlord History?

Everyone knows the biblical story of David versus Goliath. David, a young shepherd, takes his slingshot and takes out the menacing giant, Goliath, with one shot. Then he picks up Goliath’s sword and cuts off Goliath’s head with it, saving Israel from the Philistines as a result. Pretty good work for an amateur!

In the world of property management, “David”, the prospective tenant, is often put on the sideline per se. See, David will probably be a good renter, but it can’t be proven. He has no credit score (works at a restaurant and pays with cash) and no landlord history (besides Mommy, Daddy, and his undeserving ex-girlfriend). With no provable payment or rental history, he is the great unknown. To take Shakespeare into the rental world, “To rent or not to rent to him, that is the question.”

Our property management firm uses four criteria to screen tenants:

  1. Credit report
  2. Criminal background check
  3. Landlord history
  4. Income and employment verification

So, let’s play this out. We’ll go off the assumption that David is employed, makes enough money to afford the rental home, and isn’t a (known) criminal. We know that he has the money to pay the rent each month. But we still have no idea if he actually will.

Property managers are tasked with proving to their owner clients that they did their due diligence in the screening of prospective tenants that may rent their home. That’s obviously fair. But in a world of limited information, how can David get approved? The easy thing to do would be to reject the application due to having insufficient information to make a decision. This is a common practice in everyday life. For example, this issue was a big reason why President Obama was elected, right? President George W. Bush went to war against Iraq with insufficient information about WMDs and look where that got him. Most Americans (see polling numbers) wish he had waited for more proof!

So application rejection is a warranted (and defendable) action; if the information isn’t there to make a well-informed call, it needs to be denied. This will cover the property manager if something bad happens, right?

Or, let’s wait a minute. Hasn’t everyone been in this situation once in their life? Does a generation of new renters deserve to be shut out because property managers can’t figure out how to adequately assess their suitability to rent?

I don’t think so. I’ll approve David’s application if he:

  1. Passes the aforementioned four screening methods that he can actually qualify for
  2. Shows attentiveness and responsibility during the application process
  3. Has the wherewithal and willingness to put down additional security deposit monies (this will mitigate the additional risk of insufficient application information)

Israel didn’t shut out David from saving them, even though he wasn’t an experienced soldier. Don’t automatically reject renters of unknown quality; most will turn out to be pretty good tenants!