The first meeting or telephone conversation with your prospective tenant is the beginning of the screening process to find a good tenant. If they are viewing the rental property - are they on time? Are they smartly dressed? Is their car well mantained? Do they wipe their feet before entering the property? Small details like this can give you an insight into what type of tenant they are likely to be. When you question them about such things as employment, references or rental history are they happy to provide the answers? If both parties are keen to proceed with the let, you will need to put things in writing. At this stage the prospective tenants may decide to pay a holding deposit, while you go through the screening process necessary to complete the tenancy agreement.
It is strongly advised that as a first step you get any prospective tenants to complete a full application form. This needs to include: identity evidence, income and credit history, past accommodation and full employment details, references and other details, such as: any children, pets, car owner, smoker or non-smoker, the intended number of people living in the rental. The application should also specify the length and type of letting, the basic terms and the rent and deposit required. The application should also inform the tenant that credit checks and references checks will be made in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
Don't ever be tempted to not check the prospective tenant's credit or identity history, and do take up the references before deciding to enter into any tenancy agreement. Consider asking for a guarantor if you are not 100% sure. All these steps are much easier than having to evict a problem tenant. However 'nice' your prospective tenants seem don't be lulled into taking chances - your screening process is your insurance.
When you decide to let your property your new tenant will need to sign a Tenancy or Letting Agreement. This can be drawn up by anyone (and some landlords prefer to have it checked over by a solicitor) - the signing should be witnessed by an independent witness. This should be accompanied by a full inventory and statement of condition of the rental property. If you are arranging a let for more than three years you will legally need to get a Lease by Deed arranged by a solicitor.
What makes a Top Tenant?