Finding tenants can be time-consuming and making the wrong decision can end up being costly. Landlords need as much information as possible to make an informed decision so they can choose the most qualified applicant to lease to – this is where having pre-screening questions can have a real impact.
Asking renters questions is a great way to efficiently vet potential applicants and whittle down the pool. The questions you ask prospective tenants should aim to establish that the tenant is reliable and likely to qualify as an applicant according to your tenant screening criteria.
When asking tenants questions, the rules are the same for any other part of the process. You can only make decisions based on salient information such as their credit, income, or rental history. As such you should take care not to ask any discriminatory questions that might put you on the wrong side of the law.
In this article, we explore 15 essential questions you can ask your tenants, why you would ask these questions, and what you should be looking for in their answers.
1. Do you currently rent, and if so, where?
This first question aims to establish a few things. Are the prospective tenants familiar with the process and requirements of renting? And do they have a previous rental history that you can check to get an idea as to the kind of tenant they might be?
2. Why are you looking for a new place to live?
If they do currently rent then find out why they are moving. Is it simply that their lease has come to an end? Are they moving to a new job? Do they want more space? Need to be closer to work? Or do they have a bad relationship with their current landlord?
3. How long have you lived in your current accommodation?
There’s no better quality in prospective tenants than reliability, and none worse than flakiness.
If a tenant has spent the last 5 years problem-free in an apartment or whether they have moved a dozen times in as many months is a good predictor of the future.
Ultimately, tenants that will stay in an apartment for a longer period of time will mean fewer vacancy periods and less hassle for you as a landlord.
4. When are you looking to move?
Make sure their dates and requirements line up with yours. If they need to move before your unit comes onto the market they might have to choose a different rental – if they aren’t moving for 6 weeks but your property is on the market now you will likely want to find a tenant who can move in sooner.
5. Does your current landlord know you are moving?
If the answer to this question is no then this is cause for concern. It suggests one of two things. Either they haven’t fully committed to moving – in which case pursuing these tenants further could be waste of time. Or the tenant is skipping out on a current lease, and if they are willing to do it to someone else, there’s no reason to suggest they wouldn’t be willing to do the same thing to you.
6. What do you do for work?
This question aims to establish if they are currently employed and are likely to be earning a salary high enough to afford the rent.
If they are vague or attempt to avoid the question this could suggest that they have something to hide which could cause issues later on.
You will find out how much they earn exactly if you decide it worthwhile to run them through a full tenant screening process. This question though is a preliminary one to determine financial suitability for the tenancy.
7. Do you have any pets? If so, what kind?
Pets can cause significant damage to a rental property. As such, you need to know if they have tenants and if what kind. Larger animals will likely cause more damage. If your rental is a strictly no pet policy then having any kind of pet will exclude them from further consideration. If you do allow pets you will want to discuss pet fees and the details of your pet policy with them to ensure they are okay with these.
8. Do you or anyone you will be living with smoke?
The reason for this question is fairly self-evident, smoking indoors can cause issues such as discoloration of the ceiling and a hard to remove cigarette smell. Smoking outdoors will often result in having a collection of cigarette butts build up.
9. Have you ever had an eviction?
Evictions are a bad sign – but a yes in answer to the question shouldn’t automatically annul an application. There might be legitimate reasons or extenuating circumstances. You want them to offer this information freely and honestly, and give them this opportunity to explain.
10. Are there any issues I should know about before running a background screening for the adults in the household?
When running a tenant screening report you will be looking for evidence that they have sufficient funds and don’t have any evictions, bankruptcies, or violent criminal records in their past. If they do have any of these things, you want them to be upfront when you ask this question and give them the opportunity to explain them now.
11. Are you familiar with the rental application process?
This is especially for younger renters – make sure they are clear with the process that they need to follow, what steps you will go through, and the timelines you expect them to stick to. What you don’t want is a situation arising where a great prospective tenant doesn’t apply because they weren’t sure how.
12. Our lease application fee is $X, is that okay with you?
As part of explaining the application process, you should clarify the lease application fee (if you have one), what it’s for, and how they will be required to pay it. Surprising them with an application fee down the line might put them off and you’ll both have wasted more time than necessary.
13. Will you be able to pay the deposit of $X at the time of signing the lease?
The deposit is the first real test of adequate finances. If they don’t have enough money for the deposit then they may not actually have enough money for the first month’s rent.
14. Are you willing to sign a 1-year lease?
Locking in a good tenant for a full year means you won’t have to go through a vacancy again for at least a year which could save you a substantial amount of time and money.
15. Do you have any questions for us?
It’s important to understand that just as you’re trying to find the right tenant for your property, potential tenants are trying to find the right property for themselves. It’s important then to give them the opportunity to ask you questions so that they can identify whether or not the rental is right for them.
The questions outlined in this article are a great starting point for analyzing prospective tenants. However, they are just a starting point. These questions should give you an idea of the suitability of the applicant and whether you want to spend the time and effort pursuing this application further.
Once you have whittled your prospective tenant pool down to the few most likely candidates you will want to do a deeper dive by running a tenant screening report, checking their landlord references, and verifying any information they might have sent you.
Your tenant screening report can be run through software like Landlord Studio and get all the information you need to protect your investment and ensure you select the best available tenant for your property. Our reports include a credit report, renting history, background check, and more.
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Ben is an author and real estate enthusiast. His interest in all things entrepreneurial has led him to work with real estate professionals all over the world, distilling their knowledge into articles and Ebooks.
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