Follow Us on Social Media

email icon rss icon linked.in icon google plus icon twitter icon facebook icon

7 Questions You Should Ask Prospective Tenants … Or Else

by Paula Pant on January 22, 2014 · 16 comments

  
7 Questions You Should Ask Prospective Tenants

First impressions mean everything.

When you first meet your prospective tenant, you should ask a few key questions. The tenant’s answers will shed a good amount of light on what type of experience you can expect from this candidate.

1. Why are you moving out of your current home?

This is probably the single most important question. Their stated reason for moving out of their current home can shed a lot of light on the experience that you’ll have if you accept this person as your tenant.

If the person has just moved to the area, changed jobs, or wants to up-size or down-size their space, you probably don’t have much to worry about.

If the person immediately launches into a long-winded complaint about how much they despise their next-door neighbor, watch out! Be particularly cautious if they complain about their current landlord. Yes, there are bad landlords out there, but a tenant who launches into tirades about their landlord (to you, a complete stranger) is brandishing a giant red flag.

2. How many people will be living here?

I imagine that a few of you must have laughed when you read that question.

There are a lot of tenants who claim that only one or two people are going to be living in a space, yet every time you go to the unit, there seem to be a dozen people hanging around. (Has anyone had that experience? Show of hands?)

Nail down the precise number of people who will officially be living in the space and write in your lease that those specific people — and only those specific people — are allowed to live there.

Also include a section within your lease that says that no guest is allowed to stay for more than seven consecutive days without your written permission.

3. Do you have any pets?

Just as people don’t often admit to the number of family members that they’ll be packing into their space, they also may or may not admit to the pets that they shelter.

Still, this question is worth asking. Particularly take note of whether or not they hesitate before they answer. If they do have pets, discuss your pet policy with the tenant.

4. Have you ever been evicted?

Again, note whether or not the tenant hesitates before they give the answer. Note whether they look you in the eye or use a lot of “ums” when answering.

If their stated answer is yes, take note of whether they accept responsibility and indicate that they have since turned their life around, or whether they continue to blame the eviction on some external force that was outside of their control.

5. How long have you been with your current employer?

The longer they’ve been in their job, the better.

(That said, you’ll find fantastic tenants with short employment histories, such as recent college graduates or people who are making strategic career moves, so take their answer with a grain of salt.)

You should, of course, contact their employer to verify their income and job history.

Doesn’t that make asking the tenant this question redundant?

Nope.

It’s worth asking how long they’ve been with their current employer, because sometimes this will prompt them to launch into a story about their previous employers. The stories that they share can give you some deeper insight into the type of tenant that you are dealing with.

The stories, in other words, are more meaningful than the numbers.

6. Will you be able to provide all of the required money at move-in?

For some landlords, “required money” comprises of the security deposit plus the first month’s rent. For other landlords, this also includes a move-in fee or perhaps two months’ rent.

Regardless of the amount that you require, ask the applicant if they will be able to have that money on the day that it’s due. If they indicate right off of the bat that the sticker price is too high, you’re looking at a red flag.

7. Do you have any questions?

Find out whether or not they have any questions about your unit. Not only will your answers help sell the unit to the right tenant, it will also continue to give you insight into your tenant’s concerns and priorities.

Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide

Photo Credit: 2create

Email *
  



{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Tanner January 22, 2014 at 7:13 am

Always enjoy your post’s Paula. Also thanks for turning me onto the 4 hr work week, eyeopening! Back to this post… I usually ask the questions you listed as a phone screening, not with them standing in the apt. I’ve wasted too much time showing apt’s to ppl that are clearly unqualified. Also, IMO you missed a biggie – What is your average monthly bring home? Owners should set a basic guideline like, we require 3x rent as minimum income needed. If I’m satisfied with the phone answers, then I schedule a time to show and meet. I usually take about 15 calls on a place, show it around 6x, of which around 4 will fill out ap’s, to get me the one that is best fit for the unit. Side note- if your like me and talk a lot, work on asking one of these open ended questions and then Stop Talking!, let them answer fully. It will give you maximum insight as they continue to fill the dead air space with their story. Listening is a skill I’m still working on :-) Look forward to your future post’s.

Reply

Paula Pant January 22, 2014 at 8:10 am

Thanks Dave!! I’m glad you liked the 4 Hour Work Week — it’s one of my favorite books, and an absolute must-read.

Excellent points! Yes, pre-qualify the tenants on the phone before you show them the apartment. I’ve also wasted a lot of time setting up appointments with unqualified people.

I actually approached this problem a slightly different way: Instead of giving people 1-on-1 home tours, I plan an “Open House.” Whenever anyone calls/emails about a unit, I tell them that I’m going to be doing a showing on Wednesday between 6 to 8 pm, and on Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm. They’re welcome to come at anytime during those hours.

This does two things: 1) It helps me save time, because I can consolidate all my showings, and 2) It gives the potential tenant a sense of urgency, because they see other people checking out the house.

Reply

David Laplante January 22, 2014 at 8:08 am

Thanks!

Posts like this are what I’m looking for lately. I bougth my first 4-plex 2.5 years ago and bought a 5-plex 4 months ago and seeing how that 5-plex was managed and the quality of tennants there, I realized that I need to learn more. Now i’m really after saving time and screening unwanted tennants. I’ve had a few issues with some of the past tenants (luckily, current tennants are ok) but thankfully, it wasn’t that bad. I haven’t had any horror stories (yet).

Being in Quebec, Canada, some of these questions are not legal for me but the bulk of the idea is still very relevant.

Thank you !

Reply

Dawn Anastasi January 22, 2014 at 8:25 am

I also like to ask “How did you find this property?” so I know what advertising methods are working the best.

Reply

Al Williamson January 24, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Good one Dawn!

Reply

Dustin Collett January 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

Don’t forget:

“Do you own a vacuum cleaner?”

Reply

Dan January 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

Good post, thank you for sharing! Your list just reminded me to ask about the evictions history, can’t believe I forgot to include that on my list. I just recently bought my first multi-family property (3 family) and I’ve found that having a list of questions to go through helps tremendously to eliminate unqualified applicants, especially due to the quality of tenants in the area that I am renting. I ask my questions up front over the phone so that I don’t have to waste time showing it to people that aren’t qualified. I also charge an application fee of $30/person and tell them that I will apply it to their first month of rent. This way people that know they aren’t qualified won’t want to waste their money applying.

I ask the following questions, which I’ve accumulated from a variety of books and websites:

-What is your name & telephone #?
-What is your reason for moving?
-Do you have good credit? We check credit.
-Do you (or anyone that would be moving into the unit) smoke?
-Do you (or anyone that would be moving into the unit) have pets?
-How many people would be moving into the unit with you? And what is the relationship to you?
-What is your intended rental term? (we require a 1 year lease)
-Is ___ a good move-in date for you?
-How much is your current monthly rent? (I don’t want someone that is going to be over-extending themselves past what they are currently paying).
-Do you have a full time job? What type of work do you do? How long have you worked there? How much money do you make per year? (I require their gross income to be in excess of 3x the rent amount).
-How many places have you lived in the past 2 years? (this question gives me insight to whether they bounce around and could give an indication as to whether their previous landlords kept them as a tenant for very long)
-Do you have, or could you provide us with any landlord references?
-Do you have enough money available to cover 1st/Last/Security?

My list is extensive, but it has saved my so much time. In the past 2 months I’ve screened about 40 to 50 people and this has helped me to eliminate at least 3/4 of them right off the bat prior to scheduling a showing. Due to the time of year right now it’s not the greatest quality of tenant that is looking to move. I’m debating decreasing my rent a little bit so that I can attract more intelligent budget conscious people, but I know this will also significantly increase my number of applicants.

Reply

Dan January 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Here is my updated list of questions. It’s a long list, but you would be surprised how many people you get through a bunch of key questions and then one question blows up their whole background. A lot of times you can cut off the interview before making it through many of the questions:

-What is your name & telephone #?
-What is your reason for moving?
-Do you have good credit? We check credit.
-Do you (or anyone that would be moving into the unit) smoke?
-Do you (or anyone that would be moving into the unit) have pets?
-If approved, how many people will be living with you? And what is the relationship to you?
-How long do you intend to live here? What is your intended rental term? (we require a 1 year lease)
-What is your requested move-in date? (you don’t want a tenant that says now)
-Is ___ a good move-in date for you?
-How much is your current monthly rent? (I don’t want someone that is going to be over-extending themselves past what they are currently paying).
-Do you have a full time job? What type of work do you do? How long have you worked there? How much money do you make per year? (I require their gross income to be in excess of 3x the rent amount).
-Do you have a checking account? (just yes or no, but shows they are a responsible tenant)
-Do you have a savings account? (just yes or no, but shows they are a responsible tenant)
-How much cash do you have? (if someone doesn’t have a lot of income they could maybe pay a year up front)
-What may interrupt your income or ability to pay rent?
-How many places have you lived in the past 2 years? (this question gives me insight to whether they bounce around and could give an indication as to whether their previous landlords kept them as a tenant for very long)
-Have you ever broken a lease?
-How many evictions have been filed on you?
-Have you ever been evicted?
-Do you have, or could you provide us with any landlord references?
-Are you (or anybody who will be living with you) a convicted felon?
-Will anything come up when I run a criminal background check for the people that are moving in with you that I should know in advance?
-Are you or anybody that will be moving in with you a sex offender?
-Do you have enough money available to cover 1st/Last/Security?
-Do you have any additional questions?

Reply

Tyson January 22, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Solid advice Paula!

I have to add – this post reminded me about a mistake that I have made too many times, which is:

Not asking a tenant some preliminary questions before meeting them for a showing!

I’ll drive all the way to the property to meet someone, only to find out that they have pets and it is not a pet friendly property, etc.

Wasted SO much time! (I only had to learn this lesson a couple times)

But the idea of asking prospective tenants preliminary questions is sound advice.

Thanks Paula.

Reply

Martin Cortez January 23, 2014 at 10:00 am

Paula – great post! It’s so much better to go through the hassle of pre-screening than dealing with major tenant headaches down the road.

Here’s another quick tip regarding verifying employment: Always call the main phone number for the employer listed on the rental application and NOT the phone number your prospective tenant may have put down for their (supposed) supervisor.

I can’t tell you how many times I have called employers only to find out my applicant was using his buddy to pretend to be his supervisor. These tenants are sneaky!

Reply

Jordan Thibodeau February 1, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Great point. If possible, I have their employer email me an employment verification letter.

Reply

ThosMN January 23, 2014 at 11:02 am

I ask for the full name of all adults, spelled if necessary, right away in the call, and sometimes have their records pulled up online before my next question. A few questions later (and AFTER I have their names) I ask “is there anything I should know about you that might come up in a background check, any DUIs, or felonies or anything? Ever had landlord trouble, or maybe been evicted?” If I see they’re lying, based on what I’m looking at online, I find a quick reason to end the call and reject them. I’d rather know this info now than waste time on an application from them later. BUT, I never tell anyone what I find or why I didn’t call back, or they may give a fake name to the next landlord, don’t want that!

I deal in states with free criminal and civil records online. Most do, search “{name of state} courts” to find it if you don’t have yours. Some cities, like Chicago, have their own court records. You can also just search their full name, esp if it’s unusual as many are, you may find a mugshot that way online. Information. Need it. Use it wisely. And you generally CAN (still…) discriminate based on criminal records or previous evictions.

Reply

Dave Tanner January 24, 2014 at 6:16 am

Paula, I’m surprised no one commented on your “Open House” strategy. I have done this in the past on a house I knew would draw some big interest and it worked great. I even put 2 time windows (2 hrs each) right in the ad. The turnout was great, hardly used the chair I took. My renter came from the open house and I also Met some ppl that were not ready for the unit, but kept their info for future openings (networking). I am the only one in my area that has done this. I don’t use it for a 1br upstairs apt (lower interest), but for a house in demand it’s an efficient use of time since I would normally get about 30 calls on a 3br house. Good info, fun to be different.

Reply

Paula Pant January 24, 2014 at 7:41 am

@Dave — You know, I think I’ll write a blog post about this strategy. The “Open House” has saved me so many countless hours.

In the past, I’d set up a meeting with a potential tenant, and sometimes it would go well. But sometimes they were clearly not interested (you can see it in their faces immediately) and sometimes they’d no-show. What a waste of time.

The Open House totally solves that problem. It’s great.

Reply

Dan February 1, 2014 at 8:50 pm

After reading this post and the comments I held an open house last weekend and got around 10 groups of people to show up for the 2 units that I have up for rent in my 3 family. I didn’t get anybody in that I would rent to, but it was helpful to get the quantity of people through since I was able to get more honest feedback on what people thought about it. I feel a lot of times when you’re one on one with people for showings they aren’t as likely to be honest about how they feel about your apartment and they just tell you it’s really nice and will give you a call, which is when I know they don’t want it or else they would just say that they want to put in an application.

Reply

Jordan Thibodeau February 1, 2014 at 8:37 pm

When I first listed my property for rent, I was only contacted by women and all of my female colleagues told me my property was “cute.” Unfortunately, I’m a boneheaded male so I had no ideal what made it cute (being that my personal rent criteria is: A. Is the rent cheap & B. Will this building collapse on me? If it passes that high bar, it’s a winner (⌐■_■)b ), but…then I figure out that “cute” means above average market rents,” ( 0_0)>⌐■-■

So the next time I list my property I will add the following question so I can make sure to accentuate the features that add to curb appeal:

“What attracted you to this property?”

Reply

Leave a Comment

Comment Policy:

• Use your real name and only your name in the field designated for your name.
• No keywords allowed as anchor text in the name or comment fields.
• No signature links allowed under your comments
• You may use links in the body of your comment, but it must be relevant to the discussion at hand, and not merely be some promotional link.
• We will have NO reservations about deleting your content if we feel you are posting merely to get a link without adding value to our discussion.
If you add value, but still post keywords, we'll use your comment, but remove your link and keywords.
• For more information about acceptable practice, see our site rules.

Want your photo to appear next to your comments? Set up your Gravatar today.

Previous post:

Next post: