What's your favorite question to ask tenant applicants?

13 Replies

Looking to finalize my residential lease application and was just curious - do you have a favorite question(s) to ask tenant applicants? Either in the pre-screening, phone stage or at any stage for that matter.  This is the first time that I'm personally designing the screening process and I'd love to compare and hear some of your best sorta "off the cuff" questions that help cut through all the noise. 


@Jeremy M. ,

An oldie but goodie is "Why are you moving?"-- in general, people hate moving, it's expensive, and annoying to change addresses, so this always has to make sense.     Most don't move to move, so make sure it passes the sniff test, and they aren't getting evicted.    Try and figure out their story--  do they move often, do they switch jobs often, both of those are signs they are difficult to work with and won't follow rules.     

Also, check social media-- through name, phone, email, or if it's under an alias, find them through their reference's name-- this will tell you A LOT about the person! 

thanks @Linda D. ! 

The social media thing....true story. Can't tell you how many times we've seen the "real stuff" show up there!

Why are you leaving the rental you have now?

"Why are you moving?" tells a lot about the applicant.  I also ask "how long to do plan to stay if you sign a lease for this house?"

"Why are you moving?", is a great one.

I'll add "How many packs a day do you smoke?" and "How many pets do you have?" as opposed to "Do you smoke?" and "Do you have pets?" 

If I speak with your former landlords and ask if your rent was paid on time each month and if you took good care of your apartment, would I get a good report?

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Do you have a mental illness.

Just kidding, unfortunately.

I might take @Jean McAfee 's question and tweak it. I'd personally be more inclined to leave it open ended and say "If I were to call your prior/current landlord and ask about you and your relationship as a tenant, what do you figure your landlord would say". 

Gives you a good opportunity to gauge the tenant in terms of how realistic they are about themselves depending on your reading of the past landlord. Anyone who says that their prior landlord was challenging or had x, y, z issues might be a red flag for me. If that was the response, I would ask why. I had a tenant whose prior landlord did not return the security deposit in its entirety. When said tenant moved out of my rental, he got the entire deposit minus a cleaning fee and a little for filling in holes from hanging photos. However, I had someone else that I nearly evicted and she came with a story of a terrible landlord who was throwing her out. 

Overall, thank you Jean because I now have a new question to use as a barometer for new tenants!!!

I try to keep it conversational, relevant (and, of course, nondiscriminatory) and find "where are you at now" to be useful in an initial contact to break the ice.

And then be quiet to let them tell the story--

If you know your area, the location can tell you alot. 

For example, if they are at a place with a management firm/landlord that you know screens thoroughly, then it may bode well (but also follow up with the why are you moving and, again, listen)... 

Or if they are from out of town but there for a new job, then you can segue into employment and may have a winner...

Sometimes, I have just asked "where are you at know" and that pushes the confessional button (like a meant metaphysically in life where are you at or something)... Then you find out alot.

More often, they offer all sorts of interesting information in addition to the location such as "I am living at x place but (look out for the but) I am not on the lease", or I am at home with my folks but only because I lost my job," or "I am at a nice house on xyz street but the uptight landlady won't let me keep my (derelict) car collection")..

And look out for the stories that are too complicated or don't make sense... Those are often a diversion and cloud some sort of tenant mischief.

Best of luck!

Originally posted by @Michael Boyer :

I try to keep it conversational, relevant (and, of course, nondiscriminatory) and find "where are you at now" to be useful in an initial contact to break the ice.

And then be quiet to let them tell the story--

 Great reminder!  IMO, is so important to listen well. Amazing what people disclose without prompting if you listen well. Most tenants aren't used to being listened to. 

Reminds me of one of my all time favorite quotes

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. - S. Covey 

Most of my rentals are 2BR units, and often, a single person who be renting it. Although we know most of the answers to this, we still ask "why do you need a "2BR"

We do open houses for our showings, so one of us would do the initial phone interview, normally in a casual shoot the breeze style, and again, chat with them on site. We actually mark down what was said, so we caught some with major lies.

One women, a middle age 50's well dressed women says she's a bank VP. When  my wife asked why she needs a 2BR over the phone, says she's got a son in college visiting. When asks how many children she had, says "only one, and proud of him".

When the women showed up, I happened to ask the same 2 questions, by coincidence, she says she's got one daughter in college, who'll be visiting, and "very proud of her".

We actually was going to rent to her, had a high salary. Called her supervisor listed on the application, called the number, spoke to a man who confirmed every thing. Sounded a little hesitant at times. Out of curiosity, I googled the bank branch where she worked, and it didn't exist. Then called the bank's HR department, and they don't have any one working there by that name.

Out of curiosity, ran a check, and she had an eviction on file, though she said on the application she had no evictions.

Yes, we did indicate we were interested in her, she called back to inquire, we started asking about the eviction, she said "if you don't want to rent to me, it's OK, then hung up."

Was a close call. We were going to rent to her.

“What’s your current situation”. I like open ended questions so they can incriminate themselves

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