Knowing the right tenant screening questions to ask is key to protecting your investment. Tenant screening is vital because you’re most likely renting to a stranger. There is only so much you can tell from first impressions. Therefore, screening is your only chance to recognize a potentially good tenant from a disastrous one.
Standard procedures for screening a tenant include checking references from previous landlords, employment references, and a credit report. However, interviewing the tenant is just as important. Asking the right interview questions gives you a chance to learn vital information about the prospective renter. You can also gauge their reaction to specific questions—more than you can from a rental application form.
This article discusses the most important questions to ask tenants to ensure they are a good fit for the rental unit. But, it’s crucial to know why you must ask these questions.
What Makes the Ideal Tenant?
Three factors help identify the ideal tenant:
- Their ability to pay rent. Rental income should be three times the rental price.
- They must have good references. This is because you can often get an idea of future behavior based on previous conduct.
- They need a decent credit history.
These factors help to ensure three crucial things:
- The tenant has a reliable monthly income proving they can afford the make rent payments
- The tenant will pay rent on time
- There is a good chance they will take care of the property
Interview Questions You Cannot Ask
Although the pre-rental interview is designed to get to know the tenant better, you must be careful. There are specific interview questions you can never ask a tenant. You should stay clear of questions that appear discriminatory or violate the Fair Housing Act. Here’s what you should know about the Fair Housing Act.
Top 10 Screening Questions to Ask a Tenant
Asking questions is the only way to assess a rental applicant. However, to ensure you get the right tenant, you must ask the right questions. And not just any question will do. The better the questions, the better your position to accurately evaluate the potential tenant.
Here are the best 10 screening questions landlords should ask potential tenants during the interview.
1. When do you plan on moving in?
A good first question for a potential renter is knowing when they plan to move. Maybe they have time left on their current lease and can’t move immediately. In this case, it may be best to find a tenant who can move in immediately to reduce vacancy time.
On the other hand, suppose the current tenant has given two months’ notice, and you have started advertising early. In that case, someone who wants to move immediately wouldn’t be a good match.
2. How long have you lived at your current address?
A basic tenant screening question is knowing how long they’ve lived at their current place. Their answer can give an idea of their stability as a long-term tenant. For example, have they lived there for less than a year? In that case, it’s good to find out why. It may be because of relocating with work or another legitimate reason.
A tenant who is constantly on the move may be a sign of a problem tenant, and there’s a risk they won’t stay for the entire lease agreement term.
3. Why are you moving?
Moving can be expensive, not to mention stressful. So, it’s worth asking a prospective tenant their reasons for moving. Maybe their current place no longer matches their needs. Or, they may need to live closer to work or family. Was it an increase in rent prices? Regardless of their reason, always do your due diligence during the screening process.
It’s always a red flag if the tenant lies about their reason for moving. For instance, they say they need to downsize, but you learn from references that they are getting evicted or regularly miss rent payments.
4. Do you have pets?
If you don’t allow pets in your rental unit, then you must find out about any animals they have. However, even if you have a pet policy allowing animals, you may have restrictions on the size and breed. So, it’s best to find out before signing the rental agreement. Additionally, you can discuss your policy on paying a pet deposit and any additional fees.
If you allow pet owners to rent, always carry out pet screening beforehand.
Pro tip: Remember that a service animal isn’t classified as a pet, and you can’t deny housing to someone who has one. You should also check that the emotional support animal letter is genuine.
5. How many people will be living with you?
Rental laws restrict the number of people per bedroom in a rental unit. If you have a multi-tenancy unit, asking this simple question is essential. In any case, anyone living in the apartment permanently should be named on the lease agreement.
6. Are you or anyone who will be living in the apartment smokers?
A vital rental screening question to ask a tenant is if they smoke. Typically, a rental agreement should state your smoking policy and outline the consequences for violating the lease. However, asking if they smoke allows you to assess their reaction.
7. What’s your current income?
It’s not impolite to ask a straightforward question about how much a prospective tenant earns. After all, you must know if they can afford the monthly rent or not. Typically, a tenant can afford rent if they spend no more than 30% of their income on housing. According to a Harvard study, the 30% rule “remains a reliable indicator of affordability both over time and across markets.”
If their pay stubs or bank statements reveal a lower amount, you should be extra cautious about renting.
It’s worth noting that reports indicate that nonpayment of rent is the most common reason for evictions.
8. Have you ever been evicted?
Asking about previous evictions may reveal why they were forcibly removed from a previous rental unit. Of course, if they were evicted, it’s good to be cautious. But were there extenuating circumstances? Or has enough time passed, and the tenant now has a good credit history for a previous eviction not to be an issue? Again, it’s good to find out.
9. Do you have current or previous convictions?
Before asking about a criminal record, it’s crucial to know if any local laws prevent you from inquiring too deeply into this. There’s also grey area surrounding the Fair Housing Act, and if it’s truly legal to ask this question, as it may turn out to be discriminatory. However, if you can inquire about convictions, it’s good to do so. In addition, their criminal history and type of punishment could indicate if they are a suitable candidate for renting.
Be very careful not to ask about arrests. It’s generally illegal to ask about previous arrests when conducting a screening interview. Arrests don’t always lead to convictions.
10. Can you pay the security deposit and one month’s rent at the lease signing?
The last question is to ensure that the tenant can pay the upfront costs of renting. At the same time, you can ask if the potential tenant has any questions for you.
Knowing the right tenant screening questions can help you assess applicants and choose the ideal tenant. However, never take answers at face value. Instead, always do due diligence to check that the tenant was telling the truth.