Interviewing New Tenants: How To Crack The Code

The process of interviewing new tenants for your property can seem daunting. Ultimately, there are many factors that make for a responsible, respectful tenant/landlord relationship. 

But how can you judge a tenant solely on their application? 

The reality is – you can’t! There are many other important factors that go into picking the best tenant for your property. Keep reading to check out some of our best tips for vetting renters and interviewing tenant applicants

Table Of Contents For Interviewing Tenant Applicants

Pre-Screening

Pre-ScreeningInterviewing tenants can prove to be a lengthy and time-consuming process. Cut your working half (work smarter, not harder!) by pre-screening your applicants. Some things to consider when pre-screening applications are:

Monthly Income

It’s unfair to set yourself (or your tenant) up for failure with rent they can’t afford. Be sure that the tenant comfortably makes at least 3x the expected rent to ensure they won’t miss a payment.  

Good Credit Score

Hey – most people these days have made financial decisions that have affected their credit scores negatively.
However, checking your applicant’s credit score can help paint a general financial picture (along with other information, like employer references) of your tenant that can help set certain applications apart during the pre-screening process.

Strong Employment History

Does your applicant have gaps in employment? While not a dealbreaker, this could be a red flag.
Jumping around between jobs could also mean that the applicant has trouble holding down a steady income. At the very least, an inconsistent employment history should certainly be a topic of conversation when interviewing a candidate.

A Credit And Background Check – What Can They Tell You?

Many larger rental agencies insist on completing a background and credit check in order to vet applicants – and for good reason! A criminal/background check is among the most solid tips for interviewing tenant applicants, as it can help you compile legal and public information surrounding the potential tenant. These systematic checks can tell you about:

Criminal Records

Parking tickets and youthful misdemeanors aside, a criminal record can be a cause for concern when interviewing new tenants.
Especially if your rental property is in an apartment building, you could be putting your neighbors and other innocent bystanders in danger by entertaining someone with an extensive criminal record.

Past Evictions

An eviction story could have two sides, but a past eviction is definitely a point of interest when interviewing an applicant and something that would require an explanation (and likely a conversation with the former landlord). 

Public Records And Ongoing Legal Battles

Past lawsuits will appear on background checks and should be discussed at length with the applicant. Although some legal battles are unavoidable (like divorce or child custody), others can give you insight on past inconsistent financial activity and irresponsibility – like bankruptcy and unpaid child support.

What To Look For In The Application And Interview

What To Look For In The Application And InterviewWhen you finally reach the point in the process of actually interviewing tenants, how do you know what to look and listen for?  

A Complete Application

All portions of the tenant application should be filled out completely and professionally. For example, references should be complete with working contact information.

Income Level/Employment Type

Employment information should be filled in (without gaps) with contact information for past employers.
Failure to provide contact information could insinuate that the tenant left on bad terms. Employment type may also help to provide insight into whether the tenant can afford the rent or not.

Lifestyle

Tenants should list important lifestyle factors like if they have pets, work night shifts, or have elderly in-laws who live with them. This will also help you know if you can properly provide adequate living quarters for their living situation. 

References, Landlords, Employers, Oh, MY! 

When it comes to planning your initial conversation, RentPrep makes interviewing tenants easy with 20 key questions to ask potential renters. In addition to preparing for your interview, you can find out valuable information from people who have previously worked closely with your potential new tenant. When you begin interviewing potential tenants, don’t shy away from reaching out to references, including former landlord and past/present employers. A quick phone call could open up a wealth of helpful information!

Although your tenant (hopefully) lists references who will give them a positive review, taking the time to actually speak to references can help you understand who your tenants are and how they will behave during a rental agreement. 

Former landlords have critical information (including financial habits) about renters. Does the tenant owe any money on the former rental? How did the tenant care for the property? Did the tenant cause any problems with neighbors? A tenant’s relationship with his/her former landlord can say a lot about responsibility and character – so it’s worth a quick phone call or email!

Depending on the field of work, you may choose to contact the applicant’s employer. In addition to learning about the tenant’s reputation and general rapport with colleagues at work, you can ensure that your renter had a steady and reliable income. Just be careful when asking specific questions about salary and benefits – not all of this information is up for public consumption.

When you begin interviewing new tenants, think of it like a job interview. There are many diverse factors (including, but not limited to, and interview itself) that can help you to determine which tenant will make the most logical long-term choice for your property.