When you bring on a new tenant, you know there’s a lot of information you need to collect from them. It can be tempting to skip proof of income, especially if you’ve already verified their employment and run a thorough credit check.
Not to be overlooked, verifying their income is an important step before entering into a lease with a new tenant. Here’s why you should get it, what you should look for, and what to do if your potential renter doesn’t have a traditional source of income.
Why You Need Proof of Income
Checking proof of income protects you from losing money and your tenant from eviction, if they suddenly can’t afford rent.
Let’s step back for a minute and acknowledge that most tenants don’t purposely fail to pay rent. Nor do they go into a rental agreement with the intent of living there for free.
But having proof of a steady income that is appropriate for the rent you charge can reduce risk to both you and your tenant. After all, evicting a tenant is not ideal and can cost you thousands.
Determine if the 3x Income Rule Is Met
When asking for proof of income for apartment rentals, you’re not just verifying a stable source of money. You’re also figuring out if your potential tenant can meet the 3x Income rule. Generally, you want to take tenants only if their gross yearly income is three times the rent you’re charging.
Of course, you can make exceptions to this rule, for example, if your potential renter has good credit, a steady work history, or if they have a cosigner.
For many potential renters you just need to look at a few pay stubs, but with retirees (who are renting more and more), students, and those without your typical salaried job, for instance, you may have to find other ways to verify their income.
The rise of the gig economy may also affect how you determine appropriate income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that about 10 percent of the U.S. population had “alternative work arrangements” in 2017. Still others supplement their traditional income with side gig companies like Uber or Upwork.
Verify Income for Potential Renters Without a Traditional Salary
You should verify income for all renters, but it’s especially important for potential renters who don’t have your typical 9-to-5. Let’s take a look at a few of those categories.
Self-Employed: Tenants who own their own business won’t have a pay stub or an employer to call. You’ll have to find other ways to verify their income and ensure that it’s steady.
Cash-Only Employees: Like the self-employed, there won’t be a paper trail for these renters. And a lot of them don’t know how to show proof of income, which makes it difficult for them to rent. This group includes waitstaff, landscaping employees, yoga instructors, artists and master crafts people as well as childcare workers. You will, however, most likely have an employer you can call or email.
Commission-Based Employees: Sales reps and retail employees may be working on commission or through incentive plans. While you probably ask to see two pay stubs for salaried renters, you may want to see a yearly statement of income to determine if a renter that works on commission is making enough.
Retirees: Retirees will have other types of income you can check: social security, retirement accounts, and pensions.
Students: Student renters will almost always need a cosigner. In that case, you’ll want to check proof of income for the cosigner, as well.
Ways to Determine Proof of Income
Whether they’re students, retirees, gig workers or have a salaried job, you still need to ask for documentation. Here are the best ways to do that.
- Pay Stub: Salaried and freelance workers who have filed W9s can provide pay stubs. For freelancers, however, a few pay stubs aren’t likely to give you the whole picture. You’ll need more verification.
- Employer Verification: A letter, email, or phone call from an employer can help you get a clear picture of finances. This is particularly helpful for potential renters who work on a cash-only basis.
- W2 or 1099: A W2 indicates exactly how much a salaried employee made over the past year. If they plan to keep that job, you’ll know whether or not they meet your requirements. A 1099 for a freelancer will give you the same information, but income for the coming years may vary.
- Offer Letter: If your potential tenant just changed jobs, ask for a copy of their offer letter. It should state their salary.
- Tax Return: Like W2s and 1099s, a tax return will tell you what someone made the previous year. It will be up to you to determine whether their job or other circumstances have changed since then.
- Retirement, Social Security or Pension Distribution Statement: For retirees, a distribution statement from social security, a retirement fund or a pension fund will verify income. You may need a combination or all three of these to get a clear picture of their finances.
Insufficient Funds Isn’t the End
If your potential tenant doesn’t meet your income criteria at first blush, don’t decline them right away. If everything else checks out and they seem like a good fit, there may be other ways to bring them on as tenants.
First of all, did you consider all of their means of income? For retirees, did you collect statements from all retirement accounts? For salaried employees, did you consider their side gigs?
Go back and ask them if they have any other sources that they didn’t consider including. If these are steady sources that they plan on keeping, you’re absolutely right to include them as part of their gross income.
And if their income still doesn’t add up, ask them if they would consider finding a cosigner. A lot of landlords require this for students, and it’s usually a parent or guardian. But other renters might be open to the idea, as well.
Proof of income is critical in protecting yourself and your renters. Still, you don’t have to keep to a hard-and-fast rule in determining who’s in and who’s out. Look at all the information in front of you, and use it to make a well-informed decision in the best interests of you and your tenants.
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