I have been an absentee landlord and it was an unmitigated disaster. These days I own a duplex in a suburban neighborhood. I live in one apartment and rent out the other. I have learned a few things along the way that have helped be make it all work out.
The banks and insurance companies view my arrangement as home ownership. So, I get the homeowner mortgage and insurance rates. That saves me some money. Up to three units will be viewed this way as long as you are living in one of them.
When I show the apartment to prospective tenants I walk them out the back door and tell them, "that maple tree and the one by my back door don't produce anything to eat, everything else does (I have about 50 fruit bearing trees and shrubs in the back yard). I grow more than I can eat, and I share ." So, now they are thinking I'm a really great guy. Before they leave I give them the 3 page application and tell them, "I always take applications and I always check references. But, I can find out what I need to without spending a lot of money. So, don't worry about that application fee." This gives bad tennants a means of walking away without any embarrasing information coming out. The application specifically asks about evictions. This process is going on while I am still painting the apartment. So, there will be a time lag. Those that are being evicted need to move before the apartment will be ready. So, this doesn't work for them. Also, bad tenants don't want to live next door to the landlord.
When I get the application back I really do check references. I talk to the current landlord and employer and where I live criminal records are easy to find online. So, I look at that also. Any traffic ticket will show up with an address. So, I can see if this matches the address they gave me.
It all boils down to two simple rules:
1) Be a hard ass when you're picking tenants.
2) Be a good neighbor afterwards.