How to Verify Employment and Income for Apartment Rentals

How to Verify Employment and Income for Apartment Rentals

Last Updated: January 19, 2023 by Cameron Smith

One of a landlord’s most basic responsibilities is to verify their applicants’ income and employment to ensure that they are able to pay the rent. Income and employment status are usually provided by the applicant’s current employer, but some income verification can be done through tenant screening reports.

Why Verify a Tenant’s Income and Employment?

Without verifying a tenant’s income and employment, it becomes more likely that the landlord has brought in an unqualified tenant. With the average cost of eviction ranging between $3,500 and $10,000, it’s imperative to bring in the best tenants possible.

When screening tenants, the first thing a landlord should look at is their income. If the applicant doesn’t have a job, or it’s clear they’re overextending themselves for rent payments, then nothing else on the application matters. Landlords legally can and should deny applicants who can’t make rent payments.

The average rent payments in the U.S. recently surpassed $2,000 per month. If your tenant struggles to make payments, then you’re forced to evict, or not renew the lease after their initial term is up. When property owners have to make mortgage payments themselves, suddenly owning a rental property becomes much less appealing.

In addition, you want to make sure that your applicant has a decent job history. If they recently started a new job, or they have a history of leaving jobs quickly, that’s another red flag that should be considered.

How to Verify a Tenant’s Income and Employment

Here are the steps to verify a tenant’s income and employment:

  1. Ask on the Application
  2. Have Applicant Sign a Release
  3. Review the Application
  4. Talk to Employer(s)
  5. Verify Debt Through a Credit Reports

1. Ask on the Application

      On the application itself, be sure to ask for this info:

      • Five years of employment history
      • Current income
      • Employment address
      • Contact info for direct supervisor or HR representative at company
      • Current debt payments

      Of course, your applicants can lie on their application, presumably hoping that you won’t do your due diligence. However, this is an opportunity to find out about their character. If they lied about anything, steer clear of them.

      Another reason to ask for income and debt on the application, as opposed to just getting it from the employer or credit reports, is so that they can weed themselves out. Any unqualified applicant that doesn’t submit an application after seeing what you require is a win. You’ll spend less time and money screening those who remain.


      Be sure to note on the application itself that you plan to follow up and verify all the information they submit. This may keep some unqualified candidates from applying at all, which is a huge win for any landlord.

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      2. Have Applicants Sign a Release

      On the application, be sure to have a statement that gives you permission to contact current and previous employers (consult with an attorney for exact verbiage). There should be a place to sign and date so there’s absolutely no confusion that they’re giving permission.

      Privacy laws forbid employers from giving out some information and the employer reference you reach out to will likely be hesitant unless they know permission has been given. To help this process along, advise your applicant to notify the reference that they have permission to give out employment information.

      3. Review the Application

      First of all, if the application is incomplete or they don’t give you permission to gather data, that makes it much easier to go with other candidates.

      Next, have a documented “auto-reject” list. This means that you’ll keep a document where you list the minimum standards for some of the more common aspects of tenant screening. In the case of asking about income and employment, you can set standards such as:

      • Rent payments no more than 35% of gross income
      • Debt-to-income no greater than 45% of gross income
      • Minimum 6 months at current employment

      Of course when verifying their rental history, you can set minimum standards for those as well.

      Setting minimum standards makes it easier for you to quickly scan through applications and filter many of them out.

      4. Talk to Employer(s)

      At the bare minimum, talk to a current employer. If you feel you need to know more, you can try to reach out to previous employers as well.

      The first thing you’ll want to do is to make sure that you’re not talking to a fake—for example if the applicant gives you the number of a friend or supportive coworker rather than a boss or HR rep.

      The easiest way to avoid a fake reference would be to look up the reference on LinkedIn to verify their position. Then, call a general line to the company and ask to be transferred to that person. Don’t call a direct line given by the reference.

      Next, ask the reference a series of questions to confirm the answers given by the prospective tenant on the application. More than just verifying their income, you want to establish their history at the workplace.

      Here are a few examples:

      • How Long Has [Applicant] Been Employed?
      • What is [Applicant’s] Job Title?
      • What is [Applicant’s] Annual/Hourly Salary?
      • Does [Applicant] Have a History of Missed Work?
      • Does [Applicant] Have a History of Being Late to Work?
      • Does [Applicant] Have a History of Write-ups or Disciplinary Issues?
      • Why Did [Applicant] Leave? (Previous Employer)

      Don’t stray too far or ask irrelevant questions. It’s possible to ask questions that would lead to answers that fall into discriminating against a protected class.

      Avoid Discrimination When Talking to Employers

      The Fair Housing Act (FHA) lists several protected classes. If you reject an applicant for a reason that falls under a protected class, you could be sued for discrimination. Furthermore, if you even appear to have done this you can be sued for discrimination.

      Here’s an example:

      Let’s say you ask an employer’s reference if the applicant is pregnant. Then later you reject the applicant for a completely different reason. However, the applicant finds out you talked to the reference about her pregnancy and sues you for discrimination.

      At that point, it can be difficult to prove that you weren’t discriminating against her.


      It’s possible for your reference to give you information that could break FHA regulations even if you’re careful with your questions. In these situations, it’s up to you to use discretion and not allow the information to sway your decision.

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      5. Verify Debt Through a Credit Report

      Perhaps more important than verifying an applicant’s total income is to calculate their total debt-to-income ratio. After all, someone can make $75k and have more disposable income than someone who makes $100k but has a ton of debt.

      The typical recommendation is to look for tenants with no more than a 36% debt-to-income ratio. However, as rent increases typically outpace income, that number is becoming more difficult to achieve:

      Screenshot                   on

      (source: Real Estate Witch)

      A more useful metric than a minimum standard may be to just compare between applicants and see whose DTI is the most favorable (given that their gross income is also high enough).

      Landlords can verify debt through a credit report. These can be pulled using a tenant screening service (such as through Experian’s Credit Report & Score service for $14.95), or can be supplied by the applicant for free. Once per year consumers can pull a free credit report from the three main bureaus.

      In addition to DTI, some landlords will like to see their rent-to-income ratio. In other words, what percent of the applicant’s gross income will be spent on renting your property? It’s a good metric for determining the prospective tenant’s ability to pay their rent each month.

      Most experts agree that about 28%-30% of monthly income should be spent on rent.

      What Should a Landlord Look for With a Tenant’s Employment?

      When verifying a potential tenant’s employment, landlords should do more than confirm that they have the job they claim to have on the application.

      Landlords should also look for:

      • No unexplained gaps – Did they get laid off and had a hard time finding another job? That’s a red flag that they may have future trouble in their chosen field.
      • Single career path – Applicants who can demonstrate that they’re committed to a chosen field will likely have more job security and earning potential than someone who can’t seem to settle on a career.
      • No job-hopping – Someone who moves on from jobs quickly can indicate someone who doesn’t like to settle in an area. This could mean a tenant who doesn’t stay long-term in your rental. It could also indicate this person has been fired a few times and isn’t likely to be as reliable.
      • Higher quality position – This is the most nit-picky, but could help you decide between two applicants. If one tenant has many years’ experience as a department manager or a career in a professional field such as a doctor or a lawyer, that usually indicates higher earning potential than others.

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      What if a Landlord Cannot Verify Income and Employment?

      There will likely come a time when a landlord cannot verify income and employment by traditional means. There are many reasons this could happen, and more information should be gathered before rejecting the applicant.

      Here are a few reasons you may not be able to verify income and employment:

      The Applicant May Be Retired

      In this case, there is literally no employer to talk to, nor an income from a regular job. To verify income, you can ask to see pension distribution statements or social security benefits. You can also ask for bank statements to see how much money they have and how much is deposited each month into their account.

      The Applicant May Be a Contract Worker

      In today’s economy, more and more people are leaving traditional 9-to-5 jobs and will often work for a number of companies as a contract worker. They may not have a steady gig, rather taking on a number of one-time jobs. In this case, there isn’t an employer to verify how much they’re making.

      Successful contract workers can make a great living, so don’t reject these applications out of hand. You can still take a look at their tax returns or bank statements, both of which should give you a good history of how much they’re earning.

      The Applicant Could Have Money in a Bank Account

      It’s possible that your applicant may be in-between jobs or taking a break, but they have plenty of money in the bank account. This also could be someone who got a large settlement. They may not have a current job, but they may have plenty of money in a bank account, making them a great tenant.

      In this case, bank statements should be able to verify that they can easily make the rent payments for the foreseeable future.

      The Applicant Could Have Money From Other Sources

      Alimony, child support, disability, and other sources of income may provide enough for the tenant to qualify for your rental. However, in these cases, don’t ask for those sources of income directly, as that can lead to a discrimination case based on the protected classes laid out in the Fair Housing Act.

      However, if the tenant decides to disclose this information, it can make for a more robust case to choose that applicant over another.