What are the top questions to ask a prospective tenant?

Landlord Forums & Rental Property Questions 19 Replies

I've been told I ask too many questions and don't want prospective renters to feel I'm giving them the third degree. What are the best questions to ask a new potential tenant responding to an on-line rental listing?

Also is craigslist still the best place to post a home for rent?

TIA!

I do like craigslist alot and find I get alot of responses from there. Go to Postlets.com and create a professional ad for free and it will post automatically to sites like Zillow and hotpads and a few others. Take the text they generate and paste it into craigslist and the photos will appear and the text. People will call you and ask if you're a property manager because it will look very nice.

I think the question that holds alot of weight is.... "why are you moving?" that should open the door to a number of things, such as, we wanted to be in this school district, I'm relocating for a job, I got kicked out of my old house for not paying rent, I had five dogs, I etc. etc. Responsible tenants tend to plan moves ahead of time as opposed to someone who needs a house tommorow morning and wants to see your place at 9pm. That should be a red flag. Step back and ask yourself why the tenant wants to move into your place.

First of all use the first conversation with a perspective tenant as a qualifier and then have a formal application ready for them once they view the unit and are interested.

On the 1st conversation I ask 3 things:

1. Have you ever been evicted?

2. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

3. Does your take home income fit the income requirements for the apartment? (3x the monthly rent take home per mo and I will go down to 2.5x if the apartment includes utilities). They will need to provide paystubs to prove the income too.

This preliminary screening helps because the first 2 questions I am going to find out when I run the background check anyway and the perspective tenant knows this so why waste any time?

Also, you eliminate some of the non-desirable renters just by having them fill out an application and charging them for it (in my case $25). They will have no problem lying to you even to the point of filling out the application if you make the whole process free so I highly recommend charging a fee. I charge what it costs me to do the check.

This process is one I do with EVERY tenant. As long as you are consistent with your screening policies you shouldn't have any issues and the questions you are asking or having them fill out on the app are no different than any other landlord would ask.

Medium rzt hc 6483Michael Noto, SalCal Real Estate Connections | [email protected] | 860‑384‑7570 | CT Agent # RES.0799665

For both my rentals and the units I fill for my clients Craigslist, Zillow, & Trulia seem to get the most responses when I post ads. In Connecticut, or at least in the Hartford area specifically, Craigslist is still the top dog as far as I see if you want to get eyeballs on your vacant rental unit.

Medium rzt hc 6483Michael Noto, SalCal Real Estate Connections | [email protected] | 860‑384‑7570 | CT Agent # RES.0799665

Hi @James B.  , @Michael Noto  is right on track with his advice.  I do very similar things here in the Denver metro area.  As the market heats up I normally require 3X rent, and I use MySmartMove.com to do the credit and background check.  This is a great way to have an independent analysis of these reports as well as your gut check.  I take a paper application and screen employer, previous landlord and MOST importantly is the 2nd previous landlord.  This is usually where you find the truth about the tenant.  

One additional question I like to ask both the tenant and landlords is how much of the deposit was returned to the tenant?  If below 50% it is very questionable if they will return your place in good shape.

Good luck, and please remember to VOTE on reply's you think have helped.  This validates respondents positing and lets readers know that this information was valued.

Hope you have an excellent future!

- Dave

I don't physically ask to many questions up front. All of my questions are on my rental application. On there I ask...

  • Have you ever been evicted?
  • Have you ever had a foreclosure/repossession? If so, when?
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? If so, when?

    Have you ever been convicted of a crime, other than a traffic violation? explain...

  • 3 personal references

  • 2 emergency contacts

  • Do you own pets? How many? Type? Weight?

  • Why are you moving?

  • Name & contact info of your previous 2 landlords

  • etc.

Side note: I save the name & contact info of their landlord and stay in contact with them because they may be a potential partner, seller or buyer for more properties in the future.

Side note 2: Personal references & emergency contacts can serve as a great way to find the tenant if they end up owing you money and skipping out on you later on down the line.

As for craigslist, I don't know about your market area but It's an excellent tool to find tenants in my area (Connecticut).

    Cameron Norfleet, Century 21 AllPoints Realty | http://www.CameronNorfleet.com

    We do a quick 5 minute-8 question telephone screening that weeds out most of the undesirables and gives me valuable information. If they pass this, then I do a 30 minute-20 question telephone interview. If they pass the interview, then I offer to show them the property. At the property, I am getting to know more about them from what I see and what I sense and the follow up questions I ask. They have the opportunity to ask me questions too and get to know me and more about the property. Applications to rent are available at the showing.

    Here are my initial 8 screening questions:

    1. How did you hear about the property? (This helps me identify the effectiveness of my advertising and also lets me know if the person has seen my on line ads that explain the features of the property and lists some of my minimum criteria to rent.)

    2. Why are you looking now? (Open ended question that generates a lot of valuable info.)

    3. What kind of place are you looking for? What features are important to you? (Open ended question that indicates if they have thought through their preferences and if the unit is likely to meet their expectations.)

    4. How many people will be living in the unit? (Deal breaker if too many,such as more than 2 per bedroom. Yes, babies count as people.)

    5. Does anyone smoke? (Deal breaker if the answer is YES. We don't rent to smokers.)

    6. Do you have pets or animals? (Deal breaker is the answer to pets is YES. If the answer to animals is related to a disability, I answer "We gladly make reasonable accommodations for people with qualified disabilities." Then I move on to the next question. Later, during the more in-depth interview I carefully ask other questions that help me sort out fakers from legitimate people with disabilities.)

    7. What is your current monthly income before taxes? (Deal breaker if they do not meet our income requirements.)

    8. Have you ever been evicted or asked to leave a property? (An answer of yes is not an automatic deal breaker for me, but will result in further discussion. Some people are evicted upon the sale or conversion of a property, to no fault of their own. It is the problem tenants and unlawful detainers that concern me.)

    We follow this 8 question screening with a 20 question interview that typically takes 30 minutes. Good prospective tenants tend to appreciate our thoroughness . Bad prospective tenants tend to balk at this. Occasionally I have had someone snip at me and tell me I ask too many questions. I don't take it personally. I calmly say, "It is important to me to know if it is worth my time to show the place. I need to know if you are likely to meet our minimum criteria to rent. Would you like to proceed?"

    Marcia Maynard, Fischer Properties | Podcast Guest on Show #83

    @James B.  first I congratulate you on taking feedback and working to improve yourself so that you provide a better experience for your applicants.

    The thing I try and do is get the applicants to talk. Most folks with a story, want to tell it so if you ask open ended questions you will get their story. Hearing their story allows me to move on and spend my time showing the unit to qualified applicants.

    The most important step in the process for me is to request and obtain their permission to ask them a few questions. Once they give this permission, they feel less grilled and "stocked" by my questions.

    My philosophy behind my phone contact is to screen out the time wasters. Those that have had evictions, are criminals, and who didn't read the ad and the property is not what they are looking for.

    After obtaining their permission, I ask when they need to move. I want to make sure my availability lines up with their needs. I'm usually a month or so out and some people need something right away. Others are looking to move in Sept for my May vacancy.

    Next I ask what pets they have. Notice I don't ask "if" they have pets. I assume they do so they don't think we don't take pets and say they don't have pets. I then get info on the pets, dog breeds and ages (no puppies or kittens-don't want them to learn their potty training in our units).

    Next is who else would be living with them. This allows them to disclose their BF (who it turns out later has a criminal record).

    Next I ask what they are looking for in a place, what features are important. My ads are specific about what are in my units but if they want a dishwasher and my unit doesn't have one. Better to find out on the phone than after they walk into the kitchen.

    Next I ask about their rent budget, how much is it? It never ceases to amaze me how many people look for something too expensive and think they will negotiate the rent to a lower amount. I tell them no go on the phone and saves the brain damage of, again showing to someone that can't/won't afford the unit.

    Finally I tell them we do a credit, eviction, and criminal background check and ask if there would be any issues with this for either them or their roommates. Again weeds out the felons and other misfits.

    If they pass these questions, then they get a showing. If they want to rent the place after seeing it, then all of this information (and much more) is again collected on my paper application which is then independently verified.

    All of these questions are asked in a friendly manner with appropriate conversational continuers added in when there is a lull in the tenants response and there seems like more information may be coming.

    Medium rre 1to1 small sizeBill S., Reliant Real Estate, Inc. | 720 207‑8190

    I like to also add "Have you ever been arrested? Why?"

    I found one person who was prone to being arrested a couple times a year, but never convicted. Seriously. Arrested a couple times a year.


    Originally posted by @Cameron Norfleet :

    • Have you ever been convicted of a crime, other than a traffic violation? explain.

    Hey @James B.  A lot of landlords I used to work with would ask to see their prospective tenants' current unit (assuming they are local). So that might be an option for you after you've done your due diligence with all of the great suggestions above.

    Robert Musallam, Intero Real Estate | [email protected] | 408‑410‑5938 | http://sanjoserealestatenow.com | CA Agent # 01949905

    I'm amazed at the great responses. I'm glad I asked bc I learned a few new things. THANKS!

    Usually, it's not what you say but how you say it that has an effect on folks. Regarding craigslist, it's different for everyone. Personally, I like marketing right in the community with homes on the market with neighbors, local businesses, etc.

    Hope that helps!

    Originally posted by @Marcia Maynard :
    We do a quick 5 minute-8 question telephone screening that weeds out most of the undesirables and gives me valuable information. If they pass this, then I do a 30 minute-20 question telephone interview. If they pass the interview, then I offer to show them the property. At the property, I am getting to know more about them from what I see and what I sense and the follow up questions I ask. They have the opportunity to ask me questions too and get to know me and more about the property. Applications to rent are available at the showing.

    Here are my initial 8 screening questions:

    1. How did you hear about the property? (This helps me identify the effectiveness of my advertising and also lets me know if the person has seen my on line ads that explain the features of the property and lists some of my minimum criteria to rent.)

    2. Why are you looking now? (Open ended question that generates a lot of valuable info.)

    3. What kind of place are you looking for? What features are important to you? (Open ended question that indicates if they have thought through their preferences and if the unit is likely to meet their expectations.)

    4. How many people will be living in the unit? (Deal breaker if too many,such as more than 2 per bedroom. Yes, babies count as people.)

    5. Does anyone smoke? (Deal breaker if the answer is YES. We don't rent to smokers.)

    6. Do you have pets or animals? (Deal breaker is the answer to pets is YES. If the answer to animals is related to a disability, I answer "We gladly make reasonable accommodations for people with qualified disabilities." Then I move on to the next question. Later, during the more in-depth interview I carefully ask other questions that help me sort out fakers from legitimate people with disabilities.)

    7. What is your current monthly income before taxes? (Deal breaker if they do not meet our income requirements.)

    8. Have you ever been evicted or asked to leave a property? (An answer of yes is not an automatic deal breaker for me, but will result in further discussion. Some people are evicted upon the sale or conversion of a property, to no fault of their own. It is the problem tenants and unlawful detainers that concern me.)

    We follow this 8 question screening with a 20 question interview that typically takes 30 minutes. Good prospective tenants tend to appreciate our thoroughness . Bad prospective tenants tend to balk at this. Occasionally I have had someone snip at me and tell me I ask too many questions. I don't take it personally. I calmly say, "It is important to me to know if it is worth my time to show the place. I need to know if you are likely to meet our minimum criteria to rent. Would you like to proceed?"

    @Marcia Maynard: Thank you for the great response to this question. Would you please supply the answer to your question #7 and share your 20 question interview with the BP community. Thank again for the great info

    If they have filed for bankruptcy you need to make sure that it has been discharged! Otherwise they could just add you as a creditor. They should be able to give you the discharge notice. The case number will be on there and then you can go to pacer.gov to create an account and see the details of the case. Make sure it matches with what they state on the application. The records are free if you access below a certain number of pages per quarter. You are not likely to go over this on a few applications.

    @James B.  I think it depends on where you screen prospective tenants. We do our screening through on-site.com (also creates our leases) and it pulls from past rental history, public records, compares their income-to-rent ratio, etc. This will pretty much cover all your questions. Our applications ask if tenants have ever been convicted of a felony, ever had a bankruptcy, have pets, smoke, and have ever filed a claim against a past landlord. If you charge an application fee this should cover the cost to run the credit in on-site.com and onsite will give you a number out of 10. Usually anything 7+ is a good score and approved. Hope this helps.

    Honestly I am so sick of the snotty attitudes of people when it comes to renting to felons, people make mistakes its called being human and unfortunately a lot of (aka) better people feel they dont deserve a second chance and make it almost impossible to find a place to live.  Wake up folks this is not a perfect world ! So stop making it so damn hard for them to create a new start!!! No I am not a felon. Heres a clue ask for larger deposits if people seem at risk duh ....

    In addition to all of the above posts, I also require in my applications to include "Emergency Rent Payment Contacts". This is in addition to emergency contacts and references. At the very minimum, this will serve as forewarning to the prospect that if they don't pay their rent and don't communicate, then other people they know WILL be contacted. I've never had anyone question this.

    @Chrissy Motroni it sounds like you may not own any investment property..... I wholeheartedly disagree with you, if someone is a felon it puts a huge risk not only on you but the other tenants in the building. And in many states you cannot charge an additional security toss it.

    In my initial email I ask five basic questions: When would you want to move in, who would be living in the unit, does anyone smoke, and what pets do you have. Then I ask how long would they likely stay.  These seem to filter out a lot of the unsuitable candidates. If they pass these questions I do a showing and find out more. It is tempting to ask more but I have have tried that and then a lot of people did not answer any at all. If they answer some but not all questions I generally email the questions that have missing answers back to them. If they still do not respond I screen them out. It is relatively simple and works for me.

    I have found that by asking the right questions in the initial phone interview, most of which are covered in the response posts here, I can eliminate 90% of potential applicants without ever having them fill out an application and therefor not having to reject applicants. With experience it becomes easy to eliminate applicants. If they hesitate in answering a question or answer a question with rapid unnecessary chatter both indicate a person is lying.

    A second interview of the possibly 10%, maybe one 1 or 2  potential applicants, will result in a application being submitted for background and credit check but by this point you are most likely screening applicants that will easily pass.

    Pre-screening saves time money and the need to ever reject actual applicants.

    As a landlord you can never ask too many questions, there are no tenant/landlord questions that are taboo and you should be prying deep into a applicants personal life. Obviously questions about religion, sexual preference etc. are irrelevant to a landlord and will not come up. If potential applicants are uncomfortable with your questions or offended you do not want them as a tenant.

    If they refuse to answer any questions (too personal)  or provide requested information (SI#) reject them immediately. Potential applicants , assuming they are serious, withhold nothing.

    PS: A potential bad tenant will infill your interview questions with additional useless information to distract you and redirect the interview, they are often sickeningly sweet, offer to do work for free, rave about how great they think the place is, brag about there gardening abilities etc.