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Critical Tenant Screening Questions for Savvy Landlords

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You’ve invested time and money into your property – it’s not just bricks and mortar; it’s your ticket to financial freedom. But what if the key to protecting this dream lies in asking the right questions? The answer is simple: tenant screening, and more specifically, asking the right tenant screening questions.

Tenant screening is like panning for gold in the wild west of rental real estate – separating those nuggets of golden tenants from rocks that could cause potential harm to your investment.

You might wonder why we’re focusing so much on tenant screening. Here’s why – well-chosen questions can paint an accurate picture of who will be living in your property, their reliability with rent payments, how they’ve treated previous rentals and more.

It’s a handy guide that sheds light on key areas. We’re talking about legal aspects during tenant screenings and credit checks.

Create an account with RentSafe and start screening tenants in minutes! RentSafe is the simplest tenant screening platform on the market, with virtually no learning curve and will empower your team to get vacancies filled faster, whether you have 10 units or 1000+ units.

The Importance of Tenant Screening

Being a landlord is more than just collecting rent. It’s about making smart choices that help protect your investment and ensure its growth over time. One such decision is tenant screening. But why exactly does it matter?

Tenant screening lets you dig deeper into an applicant’s background before they sign the lease, giving you confidence in their ability to meet rent obligations on time.

This process helps to filter out potential tenants who might pose a risk to your property or disrupt harmony among other residents. For instance, those with criminal records or a history of eviction may not be the best fit for your rental unit.

Fair Housing laws necessitate equal treatment during tenant selection, but having a consistent and thorough screening procedure ensures this while protecting your interests as well.

Better Financial Security

An essential aspect of tenant screening involves assessing financial stability through credit checks. Tenants with good credit are more likely to pay rent consistently, which can lead to lower turnover rates and fewer vacancies – all factors contributing towards stable rental income.

Essential Questions for Tenant Screening

Tenant screening is more than just a background check. Questioning an applicant’s qualifications is a great way to gain insight into who might be occupying your property, and make informed decisions as a landlord.

We recommend asking the following tenant screening questions during your rental application process: 

  1. “Can you provide references from previous landlords?”Asking for landlord references is standard practice in tenant screening, but many landlords and property managers make the mistake of skipping this important step. Landlord references are important for gaining crucial context about the applicant’s rental history, from someone else who has directly experienced having them as a tenant. Landlord references can help you glean insights about their payment track record, maintenance issues, noise complaints, and lease violations.
  2. “Do you have steady employment, and may we contact your employer?”Landlords should always ask permission to contact the applicant’s employer during the tenant screening process. The purpose of this question is not to ask the employer for a personal/professional reference, but rather to verify their employment. You’ll want to be 100% sure of the veracity of the employment and income information that the applicant self-reported in their application, and checking with their employer is the easiest way to verify this information.
  3. “Will anyone else be living with you regularly?At the very beginning of the application process, you should ask the applicant if there will be any other adults living in the home. This is important to ensure your home isn’t going to exceed the occupancy load for your zoning, but also to make sure you get the contact information for everyone who may be planning to reside in the home. Best practice is to require applications from all adult applicants, including spouses, roommates, and family members who plan to live in the property–if your lease holds all tenants jointly and severally liable (which we recommend), you’ll want to make sure that everyone living in the home meets your application criteria collectively.
  4. “Why are you moving out of your current home?”As the landlord, you’ll want to get a sense of the applicant’s plans and desires. Asking them why they are moving will help you understand why they picked your property in particular, so you can ensure there’s a strong mutual fit and provide them the best possible service for their unique situation.
  5. “What is your desired move-in date?”You need to know the tenant’s target move-in date early in the screening process, since this can be a material fact upon which you may base your approval decision. If an applicant is looking to move in 2 months but the unit is vacant now, the timeline might not work for your financial goals. On the flip side, if a tenant wants to move in immediately but the unit still needs turnover repairs and cleaning, you may need to push their move-in date back–these are conversations that are important to have upfront to ensure all parties are on the same page.
  6. “What is your desired lease term?”
    You should get clarity from the applicant on if they’re seeking a shorter or longer term lease, and make clear to them any specific lease length requirements at the very beginning of the tenant screening process. If a tenant is only looking for a 24-month lease and you need to move back into your home in 12 months, it’s better to square away those details upfront.

Remember, these aren’t just ordinary questions; each one opens up a conversation that lets us delve deeper into understanding our prospective tenants’ lifestyle, unique needs, and responsibility levels.

The Fair Housing Act makes sure all applicants get fair treatment during this process. Ensure that every query conforms to the Fair Housing Act’s rules, avoiding any type of bias based on race, color, religion, gender identity/sex, national origin, disability or family status when posing these tenant review inquiries. 

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you ask the same questions to all applicants, to ensure all applicants are treated equally and fairly.

Legal Considerations in Tenant Screening

Tenant screening is a critical step for landlords. Adhering to the law is a must when screening tenants. Let’s delve into some of these legal considerations.

Fair Housing Laws

In order to comply with the Fair Housing Act, ensure that your questions do not discriminate against any of the protected classes based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. So you must make sure your questions don’t discriminate against any protected classes.

Discriminatory Questions to Avoid

Avoid asking about an applicant’s nationality or ethnicity as this can lead to claims of discrimination. Also steer clear from questions that might reveal a potential tenant’s age unless they’re under 18.

Maintaining Compliance with State and Federal Laws

To ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations at both state and federal levels, consider using professional tenant screening services which are familiar with these legal requirements.  (US Code Title 42 Chapter 45)

Please remember that this advice isn’t exhaustive nor does it constitute legal counsel; always consult with a local attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law if you need more help navigating these complex issues.

The Role of Credit Checks in Tenant Screening

Credit checks are a crucial part of the tenant screening process. They give you insight into an applicant’s financial habits and ability to meet rent obligations on time.

When examining a potential tenant’s credit report, look for patterns of late payments or defaults. These red flags may suggest that they might struggle with paying rent consistently. Also, keep an eye out for bankruptcies or evictions; these can indicate serious financial distress.

But remember, not all negative marks should be deal-breakers. Life happens and sometimes people face unforeseen challenges such as medical emergencies or job loss which could affect their credit temporarily.

Evaluating Credit Scores

A prospective tenant’s credit score is another key factor to consider during your review. Typically, scores above 670 are considered good by most landlords but it’s up to you what minimum score you’re comfortable accepting.

Maintaining Fair Practices

In evaluating credit histories, make sure your standards comply with the Fair Housing Act. This law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex familial status (including children under age 18 living with parents), and disability in any decision related to housing rental practices including selection criteria like credit history.

Reference Checks as Part of Tenant Screening

A thorough tenant screening process doesn’t stop at credit checks or employment verification. It’s equally important to conduct reference checks, particularly from previous landlords or employers.

Why? Well, a past landlord can give insights into the applicant’s behavior that no one else can. They have firsthand experience with the potential renter and are likely to share vital information about their payment habits and overall respect for property rules. So make sure you ask if they would re-rent to this person.

You’ll learn even more by asking prior employers who could attest to an individual’s responsibility and reliability – key qualities of any good tenant. This will aid in determining whether potential renters can abide by their rental obligations promptly.

Fair Housing laws, however, dictate what kind of questions you may pose during these reference checks – another reason why understanding legal considerations is paramount when carrying out tenant screenings.

Remember: No single aspect tells the full story; rather it’s all pieces combined together that create a clear picture of an applicant’s suitability.

Handling Red Flags During Tenant Screening

Tenant screening can sometimes uncover red flags that warrant further attention. One common issue is a history of late or missed rent payments, which could indicate potential problems with future payment reliability.

Inconsistent employment or a lack of steady income may also raise concerns about an applicant’s ability to meet their financial obligations consistently. If an applicant cannot provide proof of stable income, it might be time to consider other candidates.

A poor credit score can signal financial instability and may suggest that the tenant will struggle to make regular rent payments. While not all tenants with low credit scores are unreliable, this is definitely something landlords should take into consideration when making decisions.

Prior evictions are another significant red flag during the screening process. Evictions often mean there were serious issues between the tenant and landlord in question – unpaid rent, property damage or consistent lease violations are typical reasons for eviction.

Lastly, criminal records need careful review. Landlords must evaluate each situation individually but certain convictions related to property destruction or violent behavior might be valid reasons for rejection. HUD guidelines offer help on how landlords can navigate this sensitive area without breaching fair housing laws.

Utilizing Tenant Screening Services

Tenant screening services can be a valuable tool for landlords. They provide a convenient, simplified method that helps conserve time and minimizes the chance of any future difficulties.

Their primary role is to gather essential data about prospective tenants. This information typically includes credit history, criminal background checks, employment verification, and references from past landlords or employers.

This extensive check helps you as a landlord understand if your applicant has a history of paying rent on time or if they’ve had legal trouble related to previous tenancies. It’s not just about knowing who you’re renting to but also protecting your investment property.

Credit Checks

One crucial aspect these services provide is running credit checks on applicants. A person’s credit score offers insight into their financial reliability which could indicate whether they’ll meet rent obligations promptly.

Reference Checks

Besides financial stability, tenant screening services help with reference checks too. Previous landlords’ opinions can give insights into how well the tenant maintained their rental unit and whether there were any conflicts during their stay.

Tenant screening laws vary by state so it’s important for every landlord to remain compliant with local regulations while conducting screenings – another area where these platforms come in handy since they keep up-to-date knowledge of housing laws across different states.

FAQs in Relation to Tenant Screening Questions

What are considered as red flags in screening a right tenant?

Late payments, evictions, or criminal records can all raise alarm bells. Also watch for incomplete applications and reluctant references.

What questions Cannot be asked on a rental application?

You can’t ask about race, religion, sex, national origin, disability or family status – it’s against Fair Housing laws.

What questions should I ask a tenant reference?

Ask if they paid rent on time and kept the property clean. You could also check whether they caused any issues with neighbors.

What questions can I ask an employer about a tenant?

Inquire about job stability and income level to assess their ability to pay rent consistently over time.


By now, you should see the golden nuggets in asking the right tenant screening questions. It’s not just about filling your property quickly; it’s finding those tenants who treat your investment like their home.

Tenant screening isn’t a simple task. But armed with these essential queries and an understanding of legal considerations, you’re ready to sift through applicants effectively.

Credit checks? Now they make more sense as part of this process. You’ve also learned how reference checks add another layer to paint a full picture of prospective renters.

You’ve got insights on red flags that could save future headaches. And don’t forget – there are services out there that can help streamline tenant screenings for you!

Remember, protecting your real estate dream starts by asking well-thought-out tenant screening questions.

Maximize your leasing team’s efficiency with RentSafe, the simplest and most powerful tenant screening platform available. After growing our own property management company to 1,500 units, we built RentSafe to get our vacancies filled faster and empower our leasing team to stay effortlessly organized. You can create an account in seconds (no credentialing required) and start screening tenants in minutes! RentSafe is always free for landlords and property managers, so you can try it with no risk! If you have any questions about our tenant screening software, you can reach out any time!

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