When finding the right tenant, you can save a lot of time by knowing what questions to ask potential tenants. Marketing a vacant rental property means getting emails and phone calls from interested prospective tenants with questions. Save time by asking tenants pre-screening questions before passing over a rental application or scheduling a rental showing.
20 Essential Questions To Ask Renters
Find out the most important questions to ask renters before diving into the tenant screening process deeply and before showing your rental property.
Do you currently rent?
First and foremost, determine if a potential renter is currently renting and what terms they are obligated to. For example, if a future renter is in a yearly agreement and has six months left on their current lease, it’s great to know that ahead of time. For one, you can then plan on potentially renting to the person in a few months and two — it gives you insight into whether that person is looking to break their current lease potentially and what that could mean for your future rental lease.
How long have you lived in your current home?
This is where rental history comes into play. Knowing how long a tenant has lived at their current residence is essential to understand a tenant’s possible intentions. Think about it — if a tenant has a history of moving every six months, it may be a good sign not to sign a one-year lease because that tenant could potentially break it.
Does your current landlord know you are planning to move?
This ties into the question above. If their current landlord is unaware that the tenant is moving, be sure to get a gist of whether or not they’ve told their current landlord. If they haven’t, that could be a red flag.
Do you have frequent overnight guests?
Some landlords have specific “party clauses” in their leases. Now, that’s not to say that your tenant and their guests will be partying, but it’s essential to get an idea of what to expect regarding guests, if they may be staying overnight, etc.
Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
Any criminal activity will likely show if the tenant has agreed to do a background check. But, let’s say you haven’t run one yet, this gives the potential renter the option to be upfront and honest about their criminal history.
Why are you looking for a new place to live?
Knowing why the potential renter is looking for a new place is essential! In some cases, possible tenants could be moving closer for work, or they might need more living space and your rental matches up. In other cases, according to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019, 78% of renters who move from one rental to another experience a rent increase before their move.
What date would you want to move in?
Sometimes renters like to take their time trying to find a new living space or fly by the seat of their pants and are ready to move in yesterday. Keep in mind, whatever date the renter says they are ready to move in, many landlords typically require a 30 days notice before a tenant moves out. It’s essential to pay attention to the date the renter says! If they are currently renting and are ready to move in tomorrow, it might be a red flag that they are willing to break the usual renting rules like not giving notice to their current landlord.
What is a rough estimate of your income?
This is a fair question to ask. As a landlord, you want to ensure that the potential tenant can, number one, afford rent and number two, aren’t living in such a way that their income is not steady. One of the last things you want is a tenant who can’t pay rent on time. You want a tenant who’s able to pay the rent on time.
According to an article on chase.com, if 30% of [a tenant’s] Gross Pay is more than [what a tenant] is currently paying each month in rent, then [they are] at a safe level for housing. Remember, you can ask a potential renter about their total monthly income, but some state laws do not allow a landlord to ask about the source of income.
Have You Ever Been Evicted?
This is typically a yes or no type of question. Although it’s true that if the potential renter says that they have been evicted, you may immediately disqualify them as a renter, sometimes there are situations that the tenant couldn’t have helped. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide to allow the tenant to rent from you.
How many people would be living with you?
As you may know, certain cities and states have specific occupancy laws. It’s vital to check out the limit for your area and verify that the tenant and the people living with them will be within the legal limit. Be sure to keep in mind fair housing laws as well!
How many people living with you smoke?
Okay, so there’s nothing wrong with asking if a tenant smokes. In some cases, landlords allow it, in other cases, landlords are strictly against it. For those property owners against it, they’ll typically have a lease clause regarding smoking or a no-smoking policy.
How many parking spaces would you require if you rent here?
This ties into how many people live with your tenant depending on age, health, etc. For a tenant that has multiple vehicles or has roommates with vehicles, you want to make sure you can accommodate the tenant for parking or at least offer parking options for them like street parking.
Do you have any pets?
According to an article on zillow.com, pets occupy 46% of rental households, with dogs (31%) and cats (22%) being the two most common. Getting this question out of the way is essential, so there are no surprises. Save yourself time, but also your potential tenant with this prescreening question.
For those landlords that allow pets, you can now lead into additional tenant pre-screening questions like what kind of pet they have, how big the pet is, how many pets they have, etc. This is also a great time to inform potential tenants about pet rent, fees, or deposits. Keep in mind, some federal fair housing laws may prohibit you from denying service and emotional support animals regardless of your pet policy.
Can you provide landlord references?
This may be a red flag if a tenant hesitates to provide previous landlord references. But, hey, if they are, that’s awesome! When checking in with prior landlords, there are three essential questions to ask:
- How reliable was the tenant?
- Did they pay rent on time?
- Would you rent to them again?
Are you familiar with our rental application process?
Considering you’re having a conversation with the tenant, we hope they had the chance to review your application process, but if they haven’t, this is an important question to ask. Depending on how you run your rental screening process, this could be irrelevant if you chat with the renter because they’ve already filled out a rental application. If you’re in need of a starter rental application, download our free template here.
Are there any issues I should know about before I run a background screening for all the adults in the household?
It’s typical for landlords to run a background, credit and eviction check on applicants. If a potential tenant disagrees with doing any checks, you can remove them from your pool of renters if required. A lot of the time on the rental application, a landlord will ask, “Do you allow me to charge you for a background check, etc.?” That written permission from the tenant is essential.
Have you filed for bankruptcy recently?
If you’ve run a credit report before, you’ll be able to see any past bankruptcy up to seven years. If by chance you find bankruptcy on a potential renter’s credit report, this is their opportunity to explain what happened and how they’ve improved their financial ways.
Will you be fine to pay our lease application fee of ($ amount) if you fill out the application?
A lot of the time, landlords charge a rental application fee. If your potential renter has yet to fill out the application, make sure you inform them of the fees, so there are no surprises.
Would you be able to pay the security deposit of ($ amount) at the lease signing?
Compared to the rental application fee, this is a substantial amount upfront. It’s important to gauge where your prospective tenant is financially and their capability to pay this upfront.
Do you have any questions for me about the process?
Based on what kind of answers the caller provides, you may be able to save both of you a lot of time and energy pursuing something that isn’t going to work. For example, after you ask about the caller’s pets and you explain your pet policy, you both may come to the understanding that their application would be denied based on pet ownership.
They may also learn something about the rental that doesn’t suit them and decline to pursue the property further. Either way, you have conducted an efficient pre-showing interview that gives you time to work with genuinely qualified applicants.
It’s Time For The Next Step
The purpose of the tenant pre-screening questions is to limit the number of bad applicants you show your rental unit to. If the applicant sounds good over the phone, fills out the rental application and overall passes your tenant screening criteria, it’s time to show them the rental. Here’s how to host a successful rental showing.
For more information and questions regarding tenant pre-screening, check out this YouTube Video:
Great list Eric! I’d like to offer a bonus one: “Can I contact your previous landlord for a reference?”
I’m weary of talking to their current landlord who might be very interested in getting rid of the prospective tenant due to issues. However, the previous landlord should have no issues talking about the prospective tenant’s past performance. I won’t process an application if they refuse to provide the previous landlord’s contact info.
These are great screening questions for newbie and experienced landlords. But don’t always take the tenants words as gold. I understand that is the initial step. Do a credit background check. This is critical for landlords and investors.
In California I would be reluctant to screen over the phone other than basic no-gos like dangerous, numerous pets, section 8, income requirements, too many people, evictions, etc. Otherwise someone investigating and pretending to be a tenant might see this rigorous screening as profiling.
Excellent guide to the initial phone conversation! How well you handle this early step will help set the tone for your ongoing relationship. Thanks for sharing!!!