Choosing and selecting a tenant for your rental property

Reviewed by Nina Knudsen

Updated August 31, 2022

Maybe you bought a rental property. Maybe you moved into a new home, and you’ve decided to rent out your old one. Maybe you purchased a condo, or completed a basement suite in your home, solely for the purpose of getting that extra rental income.

However it happened, you’re getting into the landlord game. How do you find a good tenant?

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Thumbnail of the Finding and Selecting a Renter For Your Rental Property video

Finding a tenant with an advertisement

Preparing the right ad is crucial for finding a tenant online. You’ll need to write an ad that not only describes your property, but also sets it apart from all the other rental properties being advertised.

Start with an eye-catching headline. Use positive, descriptive words like “spacious,” “sunny,” or “immaculate.” Focus on the most appealing aspects of your property.

And of course, make sure your headline makes clear the most important details: how big is the unit (measured in bedrooms and bathrooms), and how much does it cost?

The headline’s purpose is to make prospective tenants click on your ad; they’ll learn the finer details after they do that. Some examples of how to write a headline:

  • Charming 3BR/2BA family home near Central Elementary School, minutes from downtown, $2,500/mo.
  • Spacious 1BR/1BA apartment in new waterfront building, just steps from entertainment district, $1,500/mo.

Next comes the body of your ad. First, describe your property, and be as expressive as you can. Think about the type of tenant you want, and try to appeal to that person.

Remember, you’re advertising to tenants, not prospective buyers. They want to know what’s included in the rent: utilities, internet, appliances, furniture, and so forth.

For example, if you hope to rent to a family, mention how the apartment has a spacious backyard with a swimming pool, or that it’s close to schools.

Use language that will create an emotion:
  • “Enjoy the sunset from our unique rooftop deck.”
  • “Be a part of a vibrant community.”
  • “Leave your car at home and walk to all your favourite shops and restaurants.”
After you’ve eloquently described your property, give the details. Rental ads should include information about:
  • Amount of the rent
  • Availability date
  • Location
  • Size (square footage, and number of bedrooms/bathrooms)
  • Appliances (in-suite laundry, dishwasher, etc.)
  • Parking
  • Nearby amenities
  • Proximity to transit
  • Pets and smoking policies
  • Included utilities

Including plenty of information helps reduce the number of inquisitive phone calls and helps you focus on potential tenants who are genuinely interested in your rental.

Always include photos of your property and location.

It’s worth making extra effort to get great photos, and some people even hire a professional photographer. If you can, take photos of the space after previous tenants have moved out and the space has been cleaned. Apartment hunters don’t want to see photos of cluttered, lived-in spaces.

If you can’t wait for your existing tenants to move out before taking photos, make sure any photos you do use don’t include any personal or identifying information about them.

Make sure the apartment is tidy and clean for the photos: toilet seats down, beds made, clutter moved out of sight.

If the unit has a great view, be sure to include a photo of that, too.

Many landlords forbid their tenants to have pets. But it’s worth considering that allowing pets will widen the scope of your search for tenants significantly. You can also charge additional rent if the tenants have pets, but this needs to be agreed to upfront; you can’t add rent for pets mid-tenancy.

However you decide to handle pets, make sure your policy is clear in the ad.

And finally:

Don’t forget to include your contact information in the ad: name, phone number, email address. You want to make it easy for potential renters to contact you.

Place your advertisement

If you’re looking to find a tenant without using an agent, the best way to get the word out is to advertise in a variety of places. But also consider your target market.

Facebook Marketplace

The number one place to advertise rental apartments is Facebook Marketplace. The platform has gained significant popularity in recent years. On top of the fact that more potential tenants will see your listing, Facebook Marketplace has fewer incidences of fraud (though fraud is certainly not absent).

It costs nothing to list your unit on Facebook Marketplace. But, you can pay to boost your ad and get it in front of more eyeballs if you’re so inclined. Once your listing is live, you can also cross-post it to specific groups for rental listings in your area.

Craigslist or Kijiji

They may have fallen off in recent years, but craigslist and Kijiji are still valid options for listing your rental unit. The two sites are still the first stop for many tenants. Listing on either site is free. These sites make it simple and convenient to place your ad, and it’s easy for potential tenants to search. They don’t limit your word count, so get creative and really make your ad stand out.

Dedicated rental sites

There are a number of dedicated rental listing sites that you can list your unit on, usually free of cost.

Zumper is a site that combines rental listings with other services for landlords. Apartment Love, RentFaster.ca, and Rentals.ca are other sites where you can list your rental.

By listing on sites like these, you increase the chance that your property will also appear on rental search aggregators such as PadMapper or Walk Score.

Social media

Aside from Facebook Marketplace, you can also just make regular social media posts about your listing. Post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to let everyone know you have a property to rent. Someone you know might know someone else looking for a new home.

Take a few beautiful photos of the space and post them to your Instagram account. Use photos that are brightly lit and colourful. Feature rooms that are exceptionally neat and tidy (or empty). If you really want to go the extra mile, you can stage the rooms. When you post the photos, make sure to add the location tag! People interested in the area may stumble upon the post. You can also include a link to the Instagram post on your other ads.

Newspaper

It’s not exactly cutting-edge, but some people still check newspaper listings for rentals. Advertising in print media should be low on your priority list, but if you’re really determined to get eyes on your listing you can consider it.

Of course, advertising in the newspaper is not free, but you can keep the cost down by abbreviating common terms: br for bedroom, or w/d for washer/dryer, for example.

Newspapers sometimes have package offerings, giving you two days in print as well as two days online, for instance. There are usually a certain number of lines included in the base price, with an extra charge for each additional line.

Despite the need for brevity, it’s still important that your ad include specifics and details to avoid having too many people calling you simply asking for more information or skipping over the ad altogether. If you wish, you can use a service like TinyURL to create a short URL you can include in the ad that links to your posting on Kijiji, craigslist, or social media.

Here is an example of a poor newspaper ad that doesn’t provide enough details:
New house w/ 3 br. Big yard. Come have a look. 855-331-6933.


This is an example of a much more effective ad:
3 br/2 ba near 10th and Main. 2500 sf. $2200/mo. Util incl. Nwly ren. All-new appl. w/d. View photos at tinyurl.com/XxxXxxxx. Call Leeroy 855-331-6933.

Sign in the window

It may sound old-fashioned and low-tech, but consider placing a sign in the window of the unit you have for rent. Someone may be interested in moving to the area, or have a friend who’s interested and will spot your sign when walking or driving through the neighbourhood.

The more information you can include on the sign, the better, such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, monthly rent, and the move in date. This will prevent people calling just for information. Be sure the sign (especially your phone number) is easy to read from the street.

Word of mouth

Tell everyone you know that you have a place for rent. They may know somebody who’s looking for a place to live.

Local bulletin boards

Put up a flyer at community centres, grocery stores, or libraries in the rental property’s neighbourhood. Again, consider your target market. Are you going to post your ad in an upscale specialty supermarket, or in a college cafeteria? Make your flyer eye-catching by including colour photos, and don’t forget to include tear-offs at the bottom of the sign with your contact information and the address of the property.

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Wait for responses from potential tenants

With the right ads in the right places, you’ll have no problem finding people who are interested in renting your property. Then, it’s time to choose the tenant you want to entrust with your valuable real estate.

You may want to get your property rented quickly, but don’t jump at the first person who’s interested. You want tenants who are responsible, pay their rent on time, and will take care of your property as if it was their own.

Once you start receiving responses to your ads, what comes next?

Meet with tenants and collect applications

Telephone Screening

When someone contacts you with interest in the property, you can do an initial telephone screening right then and there.

Prepare a brief list of questions to ask interested renters. If you ask the same questions of everyone, it makes comparing potential tenants easier. When preparing your questions, keep things simple at this stage. At this point, you’re only trying to weed out the obviously unsuitable tenants.

If a caller sounds like a potential match, you can schedule an appointment for them to come in and view your rental. Avoid open houses; it’s important to take the time to speak with applicants and get to know them a little. Open houses don’t offer such a chance.

If there is a lot of interest in the home, you may want to set up multiple viewing times on specific evenings. This way, you can keep things organized, and you won’t have wasted a bunch of time if someone is a no-show.

When scheduling viewings, schedule them at least 15 minutes apart. This gives you time to chat with each prospective tenant before the next one shows up.

If someone is interested in renting the property, have them complete an in-depth application form. Some provinces provide standard rental application forms. Even if your province doesn’t, you can find many templates online.

Here are a couple of example rental application forms.

Review applications and conduct background checks

Note that when screening prospective tenants, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation advises that you can only ask questions that will help you assess the suitability of a tenant.

You absolutely cannot infringe on the rights of the tenant under the Human Rights code for your province. For example, you cannot ask about:

  • Family status: Do you have kids? Do you plan to have kids?
  • Marital status: Are you legally married? Do you plan to get married?
  • Gender or sexuality: Are you a man or a woman?
  • Ancestry, place of birth, or citizenship: Are you a Canadian citizen? Where were you born? Are you Caucasian?
  • Religious affiliation: Are you Christian? Do you celebrate Ramadan?
  • Mental or physical health: Are you disabled?

Even if you’re in a hurry to get your property rented, take the time to review the applications thoroughly. Any time spent now will save you time and money in the long run.

Your rental application should include a release allowing you to obtain information from employers, previous landlords, and credit bureaus. Once you obtain the signed application and release, don’t just accept the information provided. Contact previous employers and landlords.

Credit history

In Canada, with the consent of the prospective tenant, you can obtain a credit check from Equifax Canada or Trans Union Canada. You can also contact Rent Check Credit Bureau, a credit bureau strictly for the housing industry. Though, you need to be a member of a credit bureau to obtain a credit check.

Of course, you shouldn’t put too much weight on an applicant’s credit score. It can be helpful, but rarely tells the whole story.

An applicant’s unwillingness to share any financial information may be a red flag, but a poor credit score doesn’t automatically mean an unsuitable tenant.

Instead, you can use the information to ensure that your eventual tenant will be able to comfortably afford the rent—the rule of thumb is that one’s rent should be no more than 30% of their income.

Employment

Contact the prospective tenant’s employer to confirm their employment status. Ask questions like:

  • How long have they been employed?
  • What is their current position?
  • Full or part-time?
  • What is their salary?

References and rental history

Don’t just ask for references—follow up on them. When you’re speaking to references, make sure they are who they’re supposed to be (and not a friend of the applicant posing as a former landlord).

Get the contact information for the previous landlord, and if possible, the previous 2 or 3 landlords. Ask questions like these, for example:

  • When was this person your tenant?
  • How long did they live there?
  • Did they always pay their rent on time?
  • Did they own any pets?
  • Did they care for the home and promptly inform you when repairs were needed?
  • Did they give you proper notice when they were moving out?
  • Would you rent to this person again?

Making the final decision

You’ve listed the property, collected the applications, and called the references. If you’re lucky, one applicant will stand head and shoulders above the rest, making your decision easy. That’s not often going to be the case, however. How do you make the final call?

Who seemed trustworthy?

If you’ve reached this point in the process and you’ve got several good candidates, ultimately you may just have to trust your instincts.

One aspect that’s often overlooked is communication. You want tenants that are open and comfortable with contacting you. Contrary to what some might believe, tenants that you never hear from aren’t actually ideal; it’s better to have tenants that are willing to report maintenance issues before they spiral into serious damage, for example.

If anything sounded a bit odd when you met the applicant or spoke with their references, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe that’s a reason to disqualify them. Selecting a tenant is not an exact science, but if you’ve done your due diligence as we’ve outlined here, you’ll have success far more often than not. Once you’ve made your choice, get the tenancy agreement and security deposit done to make it official.

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About the expert: Nina Knudsen

Nina Knudsen has 12 years of property management experience under her belt. Nina is part of the team at Royal LePage Sussex, bringing her experience to the company’s Property Management division as the Managing director of the Hello Rent team.

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