9 Questions to Ask Every Prospective Tenant (and a Few Not to Ask)

a landlord asking questions to prospective tenants

Property management is no walk in the park. Mistakes are expensive, and work is plentiful. One wrong move can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Finding a tenant who is a good fit is one of the most important tasks for a property manager. An ill-fitting tenant could potentially cause all sorts of trouble, financial and otherwise. Knowing the right questions to ask potential tenants is crucial.

Every property manager should have a set of questions ready for any new prospective tenant who comes along. They should be the same for everyone who wants to apply, which will undercut any potential discrimination claims. 

Asking the right questions first can save a lot of time and energy on criminal background checks and credit reports. Here are some ideas on the questions you should and shouldn’t be asking.

The Most Valuable Questions You Can Ask a Potential Tenant

The responses you get from specific questions will tell you a lot about your prospective tenant and whether they are a good fit for your rental. Craft your list of questions carefully, using trial and error to find what works best in your particular interview situation. Use the questions below as a starting point to see what fits your needs:

1. How Long Have You Been in Your Current Residence?

The ideal tenant, for most landlords, will sign a one-year lease or longer. Asking how long they’ve been in their current place lets you know if they move around a lot. You’ll be able to use this information and the application to see if there is a pattern of moving frequently. It’s also possible that you need a tenant who only wants to rent for six months or less at a time. Asking this question lets you gauge a tenant’s reliability and intent.

2. What Is Your Monthly Income?

Paying rent on time is a trait you want every tenant to have. The rule of thumb is that a tenant should spend no more than 30% of their income on household rent. Monthly income doesn’t tell a complete story, though. Make sure to consider any debt or lack thereof that will show up in a credit check. Don’t ask about specific sources of income, just a general amount to avoid privacy issues.

3. Why Are You Moving?

You want a solid answer to this question. It’s best if a tenant is moving to find a bigger place, changed jobs, wants to live closer to a relative, or even just loves the area. Keep an eye out for more questionable reasons such as disputes with landlords, complaints about the property, or any court proceedings in progress with previous landlords. These are red flags that indicate this could be a troublesome tenant.

4. When Can You Move In?

It might seem appealing if a prospective tenant can move in this weekend, but a closer look can raise more questions worth asking. Most standard leases take 30 days to terminate, so someone able to move in immediately may have been evicted, had a sudden job transfer, or is a victim of a natural disaster or domestic issues.

5. Can I Call Former Landlords and Employers for References?

Employment references can verify stability. A tenant who doesn’t want you to call their previous landlords or employers could have something to hide. Former landlord testimonials are better than current. A current landlord could be telling you anything you want to hear just to unload a bad tenant. Getting this information on your own prevents any forgery from occurring down the line.

a tenant moving into her new property with boxes

6. Do You Agree to a Credit and Background Check?

This one may be obvious, but if someone doesn’t want their criminal background or credit results revealed, it’s not a good sign. This problem solves itself, however. Require background and credit check consent with every application. You shouldn’t consider anyone’s application without them.

7. Are You Able to Pay a Security Deposit and First Month’s Rent?

There may be times when you’re tempted to negotiate for a portion of the security deposit or less than a month’s rent upfront. It’s always a bad idea. Nothing says starting off on the wrong foot quite like not having enough cash to get in the door.

8. How Many People Will Be Living in the Home?

There is usually less wear and tear on a property with fewer people on the lease. No more than two people per bedroom should be expected, not including an infant. Overcrowding is not only a health and safety risk but also probably illegal. Most counties legally limit the number of people allowed under one lease.

9. What Is Something That Could Keep You From Paying Your Rent?

This is another question that can give some pretty telling responses. Most people will respond with answers about job loss, severe injury, or a death in the family. If you get a more specific answer, such as school supplies or car payments, this prospective tenant may already be foreseeing trouble, and that means it probably won’t be long.

The fair housing laws prohibit asking tenants specific questions such as age, use of service animal, marital status, birthplace, bank account balances, or religious preferences. Keep your questions focused on your rental property and the specific situation you’re filling. Just be sure to refrain from any negative lines of questioning.

An Online Platform to Simplify the Application Process

A well-thought-out, strategically worded line of questioning can be a landlord’s best tool in the journey to find the perfect tenant. The Rent Safe platform is an economical way to streamline the tenant screening process for both property managers and tenants.

Our innovative approach allows landlords to create a custom application and monitor progress, while applicants can apply and upload supporting documents easily. Contact Rent Safe to see all the ways our platform can help simplify your rental applicant screening processes.

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