Updated: May 24
Finding the right tenant for your rental property can be a tedious and long process, but it can easily make the difference between a profitable investment and a nightmare experience. To make sure you choose the best candidate, you need to ask the right questions during the screening process.
Ready to find out what they are? Keep reading.
How long have you lived at your current location?
A basic tenant screening question is knowing how long they’ve lived at their current place, as their answer can give you an idea of their stability as a long-term tenant. A tenant who is constantly on the move may be a sign of a problem renter, and there’s a risk they won’t stay for the entire lease agreement term, resulting in the need to break the contract earlier.
Why are you moving?
One of the most relevant questions you can ask when conducting a screening is the reason for which a tenant wants to move out of their current property. You want to look out for legitimate reasons as to why they are moving. Reasons like a new job or a bigger space are all acceptable answers. But something like arguments with the landlord or evictions are clear red flags. You can learn a lot about the tenants during the screening, see the good and bad sides, and understand their situation.
Do you have references from former landlords?
Lying is easy, particularly for those who have a lot to hide. The best way to check the quality of a potential tenant is not to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth but rather to ask a third party.
Ask for references from former landlords or property managers. If the candidate is hesitant to hand them over, it should be something to look out for, but if they do offer, take the time to speak to the references directly and ask probing questions regarding the tenant’s character.
Are you a pet owner?
You need to decide from the outset whether your property is pet friendly or not. If you have in place a ‘no pets’ policy, you can easily strike any potential tenant with a pet off of your list, as if you do not allow pets in your rental, you need to make this clear from the beginning.
However, some tenants may try to sneak in pets without your knowledge, which can lead to damage to the property and additional cleaning expenses. If you choose to accept applicants with pets, you’ll have access to a greater pool of candidates but also expose yourself to a greater risk of damage.
Have you ever been evicted from a property?
If the answer to this question is yes, a landlord shouldn’t automatically annul an application since you can be confident that the candidate is honest, and that is a good sign! There may be extenuating circumstances that are worth listening to. It may have been through no fault of the tenants, or it happened a long time ago, and there have been no issues since. If the answer is yes, it’s not the most ideal thing to hear, but be sure to explore the answer further.
What is your monthly income?
You should ask a candidate about their employment status, how long they have been working at their current job, and if they have any other sources of income. A lot of tenants will be uncomfortable answering this question, but it’s a question worthy of asking. This information will help you assess their financial stability and ability to pay the rent on time.
If the potential tenant has stable employment in a well-paid position, you can be confident in their ability to pay rent in the long term. A good rule of thumb is if the tenant earns 2.5x the monthly rent, they should be able to afford it easily. Don’t forget to combine the earnings if the application includes multiple tenants who have jobs.
When are you looking to move?
Unless they provide a good reason, you should be wary of tenants who are hoping to move in straight away. According to these Seattle property managers most rental properties require a month’s notice from the tenant if they want to leave, so a candidate who is looking to move in immediately may have left things too late or shaky at their property which is a sign that they may be unreliable.
Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
When asking this question, make sure to comply with fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination based on criminal history. You can ask about specific criminal offenses that may affect their ability to pay rent or be a good tenant, such as drug-related offenses or violent crimes.
Remember to be consistent in your screening process and apply the same standards to all applicants. If you decide to deny an application based on criminal history, make sure to provide a clear explanation and comply with the FCRA requirements.
Do you agree to run a background check?
If they agree, you can get a good idea of the potential tenant’s level of responsibility, both socially and financially. If they don’t, that’s as good a sign as any that they’ve got something to hide. Keep in mind that you’ll need written consent to run these checks, as a simple verbal agreement is not legally binding.
How long do you plan on living here?
If the tenant is only planning on staying for a short period, you may want to consider a month-to-month or a shorter lease term. If they are planning on staying long-term, you can offer a longer lease term with a rent increase clause to account for inflation and potential rising costs. This information will help you plan for future vacancies and ensure that you have a stable source of income. Communicating the lease term and any renewal options from the beginning helps avoid disputes later on.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not thoroughly screening tenants. Without thorough and effective vetting procedures, you’re far more likely to run into issues further down the line, ranging from undeclared pets and payment issues to property damage and even clandestine drug labs.
A property manager can help build the proper questionnaire and handle the tenant screening process, thus ensuring you comply with all of the laws and choose the right candidates.
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