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As a landlord or property manager, finding the right tenant is essential for a successful rental business.

Asking the right questions during the screening process can provide valuable insights into a potential tenant's suitability and help you make informed decisions.

In this blog post, we present a curated list of top questions to ask potential tenants, covering everything from their rental history and financial capability to lifestyle and communication preferences.

We'll also go over what not to ask a prospective tenant.

By using these questions as a guide, you can ensure a harmonious and productive landlord-tenant relationship while minimizing future complications.

Basic Tenant Screening and Verification Questions

When screening potential tenants, the first step is to gather basic personal information.

Understanding who your prospective tenants are will help you assess their suitability for your rental property.

Here are some essential things to ask about:

What is your full name?

Knowing the tenant's full name allows you to verify their identity.

Who is your employer?

Learning about their occupation and current employer provides insight into their stability and ability to pay rent consistently.

What is your contact information?

Ensure you have reliable contact details to reach out to the tenant when needed. Having both a phone number and email address helps facilitate effective communication throughout the leasing process.

How many people will be living in the property?

Understanding the number of individuals planning to live in the rental property is crucial for several reasons. It ensures compliance with occupancy limits and helps you evaluate whether the property meets their space needs.

What are your current and previous rental addresses?

Requesting information about their current and past rental addresses allows you to verify their rental history and get in touch with previous landlords for references.

Why did you leave your previous rental?

Understanding why a potential tenant left their previous residences can reveal valuable information about their rental behavior and whether they may face similar issues in your property.

How long did you live at your previous rental?

Inquire about the duration of their past tenancies. Tenants with a history of longer stays may indicate greater stability and a higher likelihood of being responsible occupants.

What is your monthly income?

Asking about their monthly income will give you a sense of their ability to afford the rent. Ensure that their income is sufficient to cover the rental costs comfortably.

Can we perform a background and credit check?

Request permission to check their credit score as it can offer valuable insights into whether they have a good credit score and have demonstrated financial responsibility. You must also obtain permission to run their criminal background check.

Are you willing to provide references from your previous landlord?

A tenant willing to offer references demonstrates transparency and confidence in their rental history. Reach out to these references to get a clearer picture of the potential tenant's reliability and behavior as a renter. Here are questions to ask landlord references:

  • Did the tenant pay rent on time?
  • Did the rental applicants take good care of the rental unit?
  • Did the prospective renter leave the rental unit in good condition when they left?
  • Were they a reliable tenant?
  • Were the potential renters disruptive to neighbors?
basic screening questions to ask your prospective tenant during the rental application process

By asking these fundamental questions, you can begin to form a comprehensive profile of the potential tenant, enabling you to make informed decisions about whether they are the right fit for your rental property.

Remember to handle this process respectfully and in accordance with relevant privacy laws.

Rental Preferences and Needs

Understanding the specific preferences and requirements of potential tenants is vital to ensuring that your rental property aligns with their expectations.

By asking about their rental preferences and needs, you can gauge whether your property is an ideal match for their lifestyle and avoid issues down the line.

Here are the key questions to pose:

What features or amenities are you looking for?

Each tenant may have unique requirements when it comes to features and amenities. Ask about essential elements like parking space, laundry facilities, storage options, and whether the property is pet-friendly.

How many parking spaces do you require?

Parking can often be an issue, particularly in communities. You should make sure that you and your prospective tenant both are on the same page regarding their parking requirements and what you can offer.

What is your ideal lease duration?

Inquire about the length of the lease the potential tenant is seeking. Some individuals might prefer a short-term lease for flexibility, while others may be looking for a more long-term arrangement.

When do you plan to move in?

Establishing the tenant's intended move-in date helps you coordinate with other tenants and plan for any necessary property preparations.

Is your move-in date flexible?

Inquire about their flexibility with the move-in date too. Sometimes, tenants may have specific constraints due to their current living arrangements, and being open to negotiation can lead to a smoother leasing process.

Lifestyle and Habits

Beyond the practical aspects of renting, understanding the potential tenant's lifestyle and habits is crucial to ensure a harmonious living environment for both the tenant and other residents, if applicable.

Here are some important questions to gain insights into their lifestyle:

Do you smoke or have any pets?

Inquire about smoking habits and pet ownership. Ask about how many pets they have and what kinds of animals they are. If your property has specific smoking policies or pet restrictions, this information is vital to ensure the potential tenant's lifestyle aligns with the property rules.

Do you work from home? What are your regular work hours?

Understanding your prospective tenants' work situation is essential, especially if you have other tenants in the building. This helps to determine potential noise levels during specific hours and whether their lifestyle is compatible with others in the vicinity.

What are your hobbies?

Inquiring about hobbies and activities can give you an idea of the potential tenant's lifestyle beyond work hours.

For instance, a musician practicing late at night might not be an ideal match for a property with noise-sensitive neighbors. However, for instances like these, there may be compromises you can work with. For musicians, you may be able to work out quiet hours between the prospective tenant and neighbors.

Will you have frequent overnight guests?

Asking about overnight guests is a good opportunity to understand your prospective tenant and establish any expectations regarding noise, parking spaces, or other issues.

Communication and Expectations

Clear and effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful landlord-tenant relationship.

Emphasizing the importance of communication and setting clear expectations ensures that both parties are aware of their roles and responsibilities. It establishes a framework for open dialogue, making it easier to address concerns and resolve issues promptly.

A well-informed and communicative tenancy enhances tenant satisfaction and contributes to a positive reputation for your rental business.

Here are essential aspects to address in terms of communication and setting expectations:

What is your preferred method of communication?

Understanding the potential tenant's preferred communication method ensures that you can reach them promptly when needed. Some tenants may prefer email for non-urgent matters, while others might opt for phone calls for more immediate concerns.

Do you have any concerns about the property or leasing process?

Create a comfortable space for potential tenants to express any questions or concerns they may have. This shows that you value their input and are receptive to addressing their needs.

How would you handle maintenance problems?

Ask your prospective tenant about their approach to maintenance matters to determine their readiness to address and report problems. Prompt reporting of maintenance issues is essential for property upkeep and tenant satisfaction. Ensure they understand the importance of reporting problems as soon as they arise.

What Questions Can You Not Ask a Potential Tenant?

While it's essential to gather relevant information to assess potential tenants, there are legal limitations on the questions you can ask during the screening process.

It's crucial to be aware of fair housing laws and abide by them to avoid discrimination and legal issues.

Here are some topics you cannot ask potential tenants about:

  • Race, Ethnicity, or Nationality: It is illegal to inquire about a person's race, ethnicity, or nationality. Fair housing laws protect against discrimination based on these characteristics.
  • Religion: Inquiring about a person's religious beliefs is prohibited as it violates the Fair Housing Act that safeguards against religious discrimination.
  • Familial Status: You cannot ask questions about whether the individual has children or plans to have children. Discrimination based on family status is against fair housing regulations.
  • Disabilities: Asking about disabilities or medical conditions is not allowed. Tenants with disabilities are protected under the Fair Housing Act, and any reasonable accommodations must be provided.
  • Gender or Sexual Orientation: Questions regarding a person's gender or sexual orientation are prohibited as it violates fair housing laws.
  • Marital Status: Inquiring about a person's marital status is not permitted, as it is protected under fair housing laws.
  • Income Sources: While you can ask about the tenant's monthly income, it's inappropriate to inquire about specific sources of income, such as public assistance or child support.
  • Criminal History: In some regions, you may not be allowed to ask about a potential tenant's criminal history. It's essential to be aware of local laws and regulations on this matter.
tenant screening questions you cannot ask

Even if you don't mean to ask questions about these topics, they can easily find themselves in conversations. You should be cognizant of them so you can properly avoid them altogether.

Here are some examples of questions that might seem benign but could actually be illegal:

  • How many kids do you have?
  • Are you planning on having more kids?
  • When are you getting married?
  • Will you be retiring soon?
  • Where were you born?
  • Do you have a service animal or emotional support animal?
  • Will your parents be cosigning?
  • Would you like to know which churches are in the area?
  • Are you on food stamps?
  • How old are you?

Remember, the goal is to assess a potential tenant's ability to meet rental obligations.

For this reason, the rule of thumb is to only ask questions related to actual tenant screening criteria like the tenant's ability to pay rent on time, maintain the property properly, and comply with reasonable and permissible policies.

Focus on questions related to rental history, financial capability, and suitability for the property rather than personal or protected characteristics. Familiarize yourself with fair housing laws to ensure a fair and legal tenant screening process.

By doing so, you create an inclusive and respectful environment, benefiting both your rental business and potential tenants alike.

Conclusion

Asking the right questions during the tenant screening process is essential for finding the perfect match for your rental property.

By understanding their rental history, preferences, financial capability, and lifestyle, you can ensure a harmonious and successful tenancy.

Remember to abide by fair housing laws and avoid questions related to protected characteristics. Clear communication and setting realistic expectations contribute to a positive landlord-tenant relationship.

Investing time in thorough tenant screening leads to higher tenant satisfaction, longer tenancies, and a positive reputation for your rental business.

You can also invest in property management software like DoorLoop, which includes screening features for criminal background, credit history, eviction records, and more. See how DoorLoop can facilitate your screening process.

With these strategies in place, you'll build a prosperous and rewarding future in property management. Here's to finding the ideal tenants for your rental property!

David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!

Legal Disclaimer

The information on this website is from public sources, for informational purposes only and not intended for legal or accounting advice. DoorLoop does not guarantee its accuracy and is not liable for any damages or inaccuracies.

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