Trying to find the perfect tenant can be a daunting task, which is why we’ve comprised a list of the best questions to ask your prospective tenants to weed out high-risk tenants, vs. long-term tenants. Getting these answers from your tenants can save you future stress, and ultimately will create a happier living environment for your tenants.
“Why are you moving?”
Sometimes this question can feel like you may be prying, but the answers you hear could help uncover some major red flags. If their reason for moving sounds like an eviction or a bad relationship with their prior landlord, watch out for that. Stay alert for tenants who complain about their current living situation, sometimes bad tenants bring their problems with them. Look for legitimate reasons for moving such as square footage or changing jobs.
“When do you plan on moving in?”
If you ask a tenant when they’re planning on moving and they give you a vague answer like “next week”. Responsible tenants will start searching will in advance and will plan accordingly. In fact, most landlords require 30 days notice from their tenants if they’re planning on moving out. You don’t want to be the next landlord who gets last minute notice and has to scramble to find a new tenant. However, a tenant who is looking for 90+ days in advance is equally as bad. If they just started their search, they’re likely to not be ready to commit since they haven’t seen enough places to make a solid decision. The timing may also not work out if your property will be available sooner.
“What is your monthly income?”
The standard here is to make sure that your tenant has income that is 2.5 to 3 times the asking rent amount. This is just basic math for you – you’re trying to make sure the tenant can afford the rent for your place. Although any monthly debt payments may affect the affordability as well, you’ll be able to validate this later with a credit report. For now, you can assume they’re telling the truth. You can follow this up by asking them if they’ll have the security deposit and first month’s rent available upon lease signing. Knowing this combined with their income gives a great indication of their financial health. Be wary of any tenant that asks to pay the security deposit monthly or installments. A “half now, half later” scenario is typically bad.
“Can I ask for references from your former landlords and employer?”
With the exception of someone moving straight out of their parent’s house for the first time, if the tenant can’t provide references or makes excuses, you should move on. Always require references. Here’s a quick tip from rental experts. Ask for a former landlord as a reference rather than their current landlord. If the current landlord has issues with the tenant or is going through an eviction, he’ll be thrilled at the opportunity to get this tenant off his hands and say anything to do so. A former landlord, however, will likely remember a bad tenant and be happy to give you an honest answer. You should ask former landlords simple things like “Did they pay rent on time”, “Did they respect the property and neighbors” and “Why did they move out?”
“Will you submit a rental application and consent to a credit and background check?”
The answer here is fairly straightforward. Disqualify anyone that refuses an application and credit check immediately. If they won’t consent, it typically means they have something to hide or they know their credit isn’t good enough. If you’re following your screening process, let them know this is a requirement of all applicants and that you treat all applicants equally. You can’t make exceptions. Plus, you’re just following fair housing laws by holding all applicants to the same set of standards. You should also consider asking them directly at this point if they’ve had any evictions. If you have to go through an eviction yourself, it’s a six to nine month nightmare. Their credit report will show whether they have credit issues and whether those were in the past or more recent.
“How many people will be living in the apartment?”
More people simply means more wear-and-tear. You’ll either want to adjust the rent, security deposit or restrict the number of people. In fact, in many states the law dictates that a residence cannot have a lease with more than 2 people per bedroom. Now is also a good time to find out if they have any pets that will be living in the apartment. If you have a “no pet” policy, you may mutually disqualify each other and won’t have to do a showing that was never going anywhere anyway.
How to Respond to Questions Regarding the Application Process
If you ask these questions via phone ahead of time, write down the answers and compare them to what the prospect actually puts in her rental application later. Often, discrepancies are quite revealing about whether they are suitable for your property.
Sometimes tenants will ask for you to be more lenient on them due to whatever special circumstances. This is not a good idea. It can be difficult standing your ground and therefore we’ve provided some language below that will help you explain all the requirements.
Although sometimes you may hear responses that seem like pleas or sob stories, you should make sure to follow the same process with every applicant. Require a rental application, credit check, criminal check and references from each and every prospective tenant. It’s easy to get swayed by an emotional story or unfortunate situation a tenant is in, but you have to remember that your rental business is at stake. Here are the four things that professional property managers do that a do-it-yourself landlord often gets trapped by:
- They never make a decision during the interview/meeting
- They don’t make exceptions for sob stories
- They don’t make decisions based on sob stories
- They always ask for a credit report
You can learn a lot from just these five questions to ask your potential new tenants. After this article, hopefully you realize that a good screening process starts even at the point of first contact with a potential renter. By asking these questions and listening to their responses, you can prequalify tenants and set their expectations and set requirements. You’ve then created a good starting foundation for screening your tenants that you can carry through when showing the property, requesting a rental application, going through your approval process and ultimately creating and signing the lease. If you still want to learn more about screening tenants, check out our full-length guide on Screening Tenants.
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