Tenant screening is a process that begins far before you run a credit and background check. Good tenant screening should also include an interview with potential tenants. This can be a quick phone call or can happen in person during a tenant showing. No matter when the interview takes place, you will want to include some important questions during the process. The following are seven questions you should ask before you move a tenant on for further screening.
#1: Who are you looking at the rental for?
Good Answers: If someone is looking at the rental for themself, you can proceed with more questions. While there is nothing wrong with someone looking on behalf of another person, you will want to reach out to the person who will actually be your tenant. Poor Answers: If someone says they are looking on behalf of a friend or family member, but they are unwilling to put you in touch with the person who will be your actual tenant, this might be a red flag. Make sure they understand that the tenant who lives there will be the one who needs to be screened.
#2: Why are you moving?
Good Answers: There is no one “right” answer to this question, but look for an answer that makes logical sense and doesn’t sound concerning. For example, a good answer might be “We want to live closer to our jobs.” “We had a kid and want more space.” Poor Answers: An immediate red flag is if someone tells you they are being evicted from their old place. Other answers that might be alarming include ranting about their previous landlord, complaining about their last home or other signs they might be high maintenance.
#3: When do you plan to move-in?
Good Answers: Anywhere from 10-90 days is a normal amount of time for someone to be looking for a rental. A tenant who’s move-in date correlates to your lease will be the best fit. Poor Answers: If the interested tenant tells you they need to move in right away, be wary. A responsible tenant will look for housing ahead of time. Someone who is in a rush might be in the process of eviction.
#4: How many people will be living in the rental?
Good Answers: The department of Housing and Urban Development dictates that 2 people max per bedroom is an accepted federal guideline. However, there are local regulations in certain cities and states, so be sure you check locally. For example, in Fort Collins, Colorado, there is a regulation called "U plus 2" which controls the occupancy limits of unrelated tenants. Poor Answers: If an applicant tells you that there might be some extra people in the house, but that they are just temporarily staying with them, take this as a warning. A tenant who allows long term “guests” will be an ongoing problem for you as a landlord. Be wary of people who seem to dodge the question as well.
#5: What is your monthly income currently?
Good Answers: You will want a tenant that makes at least 2.5 times the rent monthly. This will allow for enough of a buffer that they can afford their other bills as well as rent. Make sure that you verify their income later during the screening process to ensure the accuracy of their claims. Poor Answers: If an applicant simply doesn’t make enough to afford your rental, move on. Someone who runs out of money will purchase food and other items before paying rent. Another red flag is if a tenant has a long explanation of how they piece together their income from various unreliable means.
#6: Do you have employer and landlord references?
Good Answers: If an interested applicant is happy to provide you with their employer’s information and the information of previous landlords, they likely have nothing to hide. Poor Answers: If someone immediately makes excuses as to why they don’t have references or why their references will unfairly paint them in a bad light, you should move on. Someone who has been responsible in the past will be able to provide solid references to vouch for their character.
#7: Will you allow me to run a credit and background check?
Good Answers: It is common practice to run a background check and credit report. A qualified tenant should have no problem submitting to these checks. If they agree to the screening process, it is a good sign they are not worried about what you’ll unearth. Poor Answers: If someone refuses to submit to the screening process, you should take them out of consideration. Even someone with dings on their credit or minor incidents on their background history will be willing to be screened. Remember, it is important to determine your exact criteria for acceptance before you start the screening process. For example, by stating that your criteria includes running a background and credit check, you can eliminate anyone who refuses to do this without facing any issues regarding discrimination.
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