by Theresa Bradley-Banta
If you own a rental property I’m sure you always take rental applications. It’s a great idea because you have:
- Answers in the tenant’s own handwriting
- A signature attesting that the answers are true
- A document to keep on file for future reference
But it’s the interviews that are most enlightening.
The following tenant screening questions will help you open a valuable—and revealing—dialog with your prospective tenant.
Seven Excellent Tenant Screening Questions
1.) “How much are looking to spend?”
It’s good to know if a prospective tenant can afford to pay your monthly rental amount but you need to dig further during the interview process. There are many possible financial considerations to a change of residence such as:
- Prohibitive moving costs
- Security deposits (note: if a tenant does not expect a return of their damage deposit when they move, you need to know why)
- Past due/unpaid utilities and bills
- Potential loss of income due to a pending job change
- Potential loss of income due to a change in relationship status (such as a divorce)
- Pending legal or monetary obligations
This is the short list. As the new landlord, be aware of the financial obligations and issues facing your prospective resident. Suddenly a tenant who looks great on paper might be a tenant who will struggle every month to pay rent.
And you never know until you ask. You might discover the slightly higher rental amount you were thinking about asking for is right within the prospect’s budget.
2.) “When I run a credit check will I find anything that will disqualify you as a tenant for my property?”
This is another good question for opening a dialog about your candidate’s finances—and their ability to meet your lease requirements.
If something might cloud the applicant’s chances of renting from you, they’ll expect you to discover it. When asked this question there’s a good chance they’ll volunteer information they perceive might disqualify them as an applicant.
3.) “Do you have disagreements with your current manager or landlord?”
This is fairly self-explanatory. The answers will help you know more about the prospect as a tenant.
The key to asking this question is to let your applicant know that you are looking for a short list of what’s important to them. You don’t want the prospect’s life story.
Handle this question by saying, “Okay, I’ll make a note of it. What else? Okay, what else?” Don’t engage in a dialog. If they persist with story telling tell the applicant, “We’ll get back to this question.”
4.) “Have you had maintenance problems at your residence?”
If a prospect has a long list of complaints about their current landlord they’re likely to gripe about you. Again, a word of caution: don’t give your prospect the opportunity to take over the interview with long stories about how bad things are at their current residence.
Note any complaints that seem unreasonable and move on to the rest of your questions. You can verify the complaints when you check references.
If the complaints seem justified let the applicant know that they will love living at your property. You are prompt in meeting maintenance requests and your property is professionally managed.
5.) “Did you pay your rent on time?”
If the answer is “Yes”, find out what ‘on time’ means. ‘On time’ could mean that the tenant paid rent plus late fees in the middle of the month. Maybe this isn’t a problem—late fees can add a lot to your bottom line. But if you rely on timely rent payments on the first of the month you need to know that your tenant can pay on the first.
And if the answer is “No” there might be an opportunity to work with your resident by changing the due date. In any event, it’s always good to know what you can expect.
6.) “What can you tell me about the references listed on your application and what are they likely to say about you?”
I always want to speak with people who know the prospect well. Friends and family are great references. I make sure my application includes a section for listing people who are close to the applicant.
But I’ve also seen applicants who’ll use a friend and not list the name of their current landlord, or employer—especially applicants who have something to hide. Of course not everyone does that but how do you know when you’ve just met him or her?
This question is an easy way to open a dialog about each reference listed. Who are they? How do they know the applicant? What will they say about the applicant? Sometimes the answers are very enlightening.
7.) “Is there something I should have asked you that I haven’t asked?”
This is the most important question of all. Ask the question—and stop talking. Let the applicant speak first.
People hide things for the best and worst reasons but one thing is certain: the one thing the applicant does not want you to know about is at the forefront of their mind. They’re thinking along the lines of, “Please don’t let her ask me about this”, or, “What if I’m asked about this, how will I answer?”
I’ve asked this question of contractors, employees, service providers such as realtors or house cleaners, babysitters, teachers, tenants in our properties, etc.
Most people will not tell an outright lie but they won’t volunteer things that might be harmful to their cause. The challenge as an interviewer is figuring out what that might be.
Take the time to know your rental applicants
Before signing the lease, review the application with your prospective tenant. Be sure the application is complete and includes references. And check those references—no excuses.
It’s a good sign you’ll have a cooperative resident when they are cooperative with application process.