Dear Barry

I’ve been a private landlord now for just over a year, with a small portfolio (two 5-bed HMOs in South Belfast) and I do everything myself, from finding my tenants, to collecting rent and deposits and looking after the property maintenance and repairs. I’ve been lucky enough to have decent tenants so far, but do you have any tips on the best way to manage tenant applications? How do you make sure you pick the best tenants? What paperwork is a must-have? I always get them to sign a contract and an inventory, and thanks to you I know about securing deposits. But I’m sure there’s more I should be doing to make sure it’s all above board and I get no nasty surprises. Kind Regards, Ryan
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Hi Ryan,

I’m glad to hear my article helped you! Your letter is full of great questions, and indeed the tenancy application process we follow is detailed, and focused on making sure both the landlord and the tenants know their rights and responsibilities.

Firstly, it’s important to do a little homework and find out what similar properties are let for in the area. This will make sure you are targeting it at the right price for the right person – while making sure you are making enough money for yourself too.

Clarify all arrangements for taking property advertisement photos and holding viewings with any tenants still living in the property. Give them an appropriate amount of notice, ensure you have a set of keys for viewings, and make sure the place is clean and presentable.

Ask prospective tenants to fill in an application form – the basics you need to capture are:

  • Name
  • Employment: employer’s name and address, role and whether full or part-time, monthly earnings (yes, it’s OK to ask!), how long they have been in the role
  • Current address and landlord’s details: get that reference yourself to ensure it’s legitimate
  • Guarantor details
  • Students: details of their university/college, course, year of study and a contact at the institution who will confirm those details
  • Pets?
  • Smoker/non-smoker?
  • In receipt of housing benefit?

All our houses are pet-free and non-smoking, so applicants are made aware they would be in breach of contract to introduce either of these things to a property - but we still like to be made aware on the application form. Some landlords will accept pets but they might request a bigger deposit.

We insist on homeowner guarantors – this gives you more security if a tenant fails to pay, as the debt can be issued against the guarantor’s property. A good tip is to post their guarantor form to that address, to ensure they live there. They should sign the form, have it witnessed and send it back to you with proof of home ownership, e.g. a mortgage statement.

It’s a good idea to carry out credit checks on tenants and guarantors. There’s a small charge but could potentially save you hundreds if not thousands of pounds in rent arrears.

If everything is looking good, it’s time to get that deposit secured – which you know all about!

Let the tenants know immediately where the deposit is held, and gather together all the tenancy information they will need, including:

  • Gas certificate (if applicable) and Energy Performance Certificate
  • How much their rent is, when it is due, payment methods
  • How to report problems and maintenance issues
  • What to do in an emergency
  • How often to expect property inspections, and how you will arrange these

We like to invite our tenants into the office four weeks before their move-in date, to go over their contract. I really recommend this approach – explaining the terms and conditions plus their rights and responsibilities to their face is very effective and allows any confusion or questions to be cleared up before the tenancy begins.

Emailing the contract can make things easier for them too, allowing them to read and digest in the comfort of their own home and decide if they have any questions. (You also then have date-stamped proof you've provided this to them.)

A good inventory includes highly detailed descriptions of items and the condition they are in, e.g. “A 2-seater red leather sofa with a small black scuff mark on the right arm” rather than “red sofa”. You need to be as clear as you can about exactly what is in your property and what condition it is in when those tenants start living there – include photographs if you can.

We give new tenants seven days to come back either with a signed inventory or request any amendments. If they don't come back, we can sign it at our end. It's then saved on file for the duration of tenancy and used to assist with inspections.

Property inspections and good communication with your tenants should prevent most problems and disputes – we tend to check in 3 or 6 months into the tenancy, and again 4 to 6 weeks before they are due to move out.

And finally – remember to give your tenants a rent book! A lot of landlords don’t realise this is still a legal requirement. If they pay you by standing order or direct debit it is up to them to fill it in – but you still have to give it to them. You’ll have received a red booklet with your landlord registration and it contains a copy of a rent book you can use.


If you want to know more about finding great tenants, or have any other questions for Barry, please email with ‘Ask Barry’ in the subject line.