Being a landlord doesn’t have to be tough, but a lot of people don’t want to take the risk because of the fear of bad tenants, late night maintenance calls and the possibility of a trashed property. With the right mindset, and this simple list of questions to ask potential renters, none of this needs to scare you away. It’s actually pretty dang easy to ensure that your landlording runs smoothly year after year, but it all starts with asking tenants the right screening questions.
Screening Your Tenants Is Crucial To Landlord Success
As you begin the search for new renters for your rental property, remember rule number one: tenant screening starts the minute you first have contact with a potential renter. Stop wasting valuable time and begin your relationship with these seven simple, but must-ask, tenant screening questions. If they get through this round feel free to move forward to a showing or an official rental application which should always include a full credit and background check and rental history report.
Is Tenant Screening Legal?
Yes, but you do need to know there are laws about how you screen potential tenants. It’s important to stay consistent and treat all potential renters the same so that you’re not violating any fair housing laws. Renters are a protected class under the FHA which means you cannot screen based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. Our list of the seven best tenant screening questions is appropriate and designed to help you find the best possible renters for your investment without having to worry about breaking any federal laws.
The Seven Most Important Questions To Ask Renters
- Is this rental for you or someone else?
- Acceptable Answers: More people than you’d expect are out there looking for a rental for someone else. So in an effort to save you time, start with this question – if they say it’s for someone else, ask them to have that person reach out to you directly.
- Red Flags: Anyone that doesn’t want to give you personal information because they’re “looking for a friend” should be dealt with caution.
- Why are you moving?
- Answers You’ll Take: There are plenty of acceptable answers out there, like “I need a bigger place because my family is growing” or “I just changed jobs and need to move closer to work.” Just look for an answer that’s reasonable and understandable.
- Warning: Beware of anyone that tells you they are being evicted, seems obvious right, but also be wary of tenants that are using this time to complain about their current place, landlord or random life events.
- What is your planned move-in date?
- A-OK Responses: Really anywhere between 10-90 days is suitable. Good renters plan ahead, and while most landlords only require a 30-day move-out notice, responsible tenants start the search much earlier to see where they may like to move.
- Watch Out For: Anyone that says, “today” or “this weekend” should be scratched off your list. Likewise, someone looking for six months from now is probably just starting their search and may not actually be ready to sign a lease anytime soon.
- How many people do you plan on living with?
- Green Light: The Department of Housing and Urban Development say that 2 people max per bedroom is a generally accepted federal guideline. There are local and state laws about occupancy limits as well so be sure you check the restrictions in your area. This question can also easily branch off into one about pets if that’s an issue of concern.
- Be Scared: Any time you hear a drastically higher number than expected. Ask why, but be skeptical of the excuses like, “they’ll just be here for a few weeks until they get a job… move out of state… settle their nasty breakup….”
- What’s your current monthly income?
- You’re Looking For: Good tenants pay their rent. So it’s important to get an estimate of about how much they make so you can decide if they can cover their living expenses. The general rule of thumb is that your prospective tenant should pull in at least 2.5-3 times what the rent costs. This allows them to pay for any debt they may have such as car payments and credit card bills, and other living expenses like food, water, and heat. Remember this is just a general probing question, you’ll get a more in-depth answer from their full screening report.
- Danger Zone: Anyone that can just barely pay your monthly rent should be cut from your Rolodex. When it comes down to the decision between putting food on the table or paying for the roof over their head, your tenant will probably pick food and hope for an extension or leniency from you. Also, watch out for renters that ask to pay their security deposit in installments, this usually means they are tight on cash, which may continue as a trend into the future.
- Can you provide employer and landlord references?
- Keep The Conversation Going: If they are agreeable to this they probably don’t have anything to hide.
- Move On: If they are hesitant, or cannot find the right contact information easily, take that as a hint and move on.
- Are you willing to submit a credit and background check?
- They May Be The One: With the exception of conspiracy theorists, most people on the straight and narrow are okay with this ask. They have to do it to get a job, buy a car and even apply for an Old Navy credit card, so why would they fear this step when it comes to the place they are going to call home?
- Walk Away: Anyone that has an excuse as to why they don’t want to allow you this access should be avoided. Most people that have something on their record are embarrassed about it, can explain it, and accept it as part of their past and will still allow you to run the reports. Just watch out for those that say “no” outright.
Stay Strong Throughout The Pre-Screening Process
These questions will help you weed out the tenants you may want to move forward with and the ones you shouldn’t waste your time over. You’ll learn quickly about what prospects may be ideal and what are major red flags. Be ready for all sorts of stories and explanations and try your hardest to stay consistent with your screening. If you’re lenient early in the game, your new renters will come to expect you to sway to their needs down the road as well. This is your business, and you need to remember to run it as such. It’s okay to be tough because the better you screen your potential renters, the easier your job as a landlord will be.
After a renter makes it through these seven simple tenant screening questions it’s time to move forward with a property showing and ultimately the full vetting of a rental application, which with TurboTenant includes a full credit & criminal background check and a past rental history report, all at no cost to you, the landlord! Now, get out there and find the best tenants you can for your beloved rental property!
DISCLAIMER: TurboTenant, Inc. does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state and federal laws and consult legal counsel should questions arise.