13 Essential Questions for Prospective Tenants

Tenant Screening Questions

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Every landlord should have a standard set of questions to ask any prospective renter who contacts them to view the property. This is one of the first steps of a successful tenant screening process. These questions should be the same for every tenant to avoid being accused of discrimination. Here are thirteen essential questions to ask prospective tenants.

Why Are You Moving?

You want a tenant who is moving for legitimate reasons, such as changing jobs or wanting more room. Beware of red flags for moving, such as being evicted, suing their former landlord, complaints about lead paint or mold or the tenant keeps getting into arguments with their landlord or neighbors.

How Long Have You Lived in Your Current Residence?

If a tenant has a history of moving frequently, odds are, they will continue the pattern. You want a tenant who will sign a yearly lease and hopefully stay for longer than that.

When Will You Move-In?

While at first, a tenant who wants to move-in tomorrow might seem great, proceed with caution. Most landlords require 30 days notice to terminate a lease, so if a tenant wants an immediate move in, something may be of, such as the tenant being evicted. Obviously special circumstances do apply, such as a pay cut, a sudden job transfer or domestic abuse, but in general, responsible tenants will start their search for an apartment well in advance, at least a month, of their anticipated move-in date.

What Is Your Monthly Income?

You will want to look for a tenant whose monthly income is no less than two and a half times the monthly rent. For example, if the monthly rent is $1,000, you will want the tenant to make no less than $2,500 a month.

Keep in mind that the monthly income may not tell the whole story. Additional information, such as how much debt they have will impact their ability to pay on time. The amount of debt can be discovered by running a credit check.

Do You Have Funds Available for Security Deposit and First Month’s Rent?

You should never allow a tenant to move-in who does not pay you the full security deposit amount and first month's rent before they move-in. Do not negotiate or make exceptions to this rule. Always require the full amount before move-in. The security deposit is essential to you in case the tenant becomes a problem or causes damage.

Could Anything Interrupt Your Ability to Pay Your Rent?

When asked this question, most people will have standard responses such as job loss or medical emergency. A tenant who has a specific response, such as paying my car loan , may already foresee financial issues in the future, so beware.

How Many People Will Be Living in the Apartment?

You will want to look for a maximum of two people per bedroom. The fewer people in the apartment, the less wear and tear there will be on your property. Additionally, most municipalities and fire departments limit the number of people that can legally rent and reside in an apartment. Overcrowding can be a health and safety risk.

Will Your Employer or Former Landlord Provide References?

If the prospective tenant hesitates or makes excuses as to why they cannot provide references, they might have something to hide. References from an employer will help verify income and stable employment. You will want references from a former landlord because their current landlord may not tell you the whole truth because they may be trying to get a problem tenant off their hands. It is often useful to obtain this information on your own to prevent forgery by the tenant.

Will You Agree to a Credit and Background Check?

If you require a credit check or background and the prospective tenant will not agree to them, this will eliminate the renter from your prospective tenant pool immediately. The prospective tenant must sign a form giving their permission to run these checks. Verbal consent is not binding.

Have You Ever Been Evicted?

Directly asking the prospective tenant if they have been evicted will give the tenant an opportunity to explain the situation. Good people can fall on hard times and the eviction may be one blip in their lives and not a measure of who they truly are financially. If the eviction was for causing damage or excessive noise, these behaviors are not likely to change.

Have You Ever Broken a Lease?

You want to know if a tenant sees a lease as a firm contract. A tenant who broke a lease because of a job relocation is understandable. A tenant who broke a lease because they wanted a change of scenery is not.

Do You Have Any Pets?

If you have a "no pets" policy, a prospective tenant with a pet will be a deal breaker. It is best to know right away, so you do not waste any more of your time interviewing them.

Do You Have Any Questions?

This is the tenant's chance to ask questions about the apartment, location, screening process, or anything else that comes to mind. It is important because even if the tenant has answered all of your qualifying questions to your satisfaction, the tenant also has to be satisfied to want to live in your property. If there is a feature of your property or something that is unappealing to them about the screening process, you do not want to be wasting your time showing them the property.