When renting out an available rental, you’ll quickly notice that a lot of your time is spent answering questions from prospective tenants. Some questions are really easy, such as, “How much is the rent?” Others should be dealt with a little more carefully. Below are some of the eleven most common types of hard-to-answer questions you’ll get when renting out your property with some responses you may want to consider.
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The 11 Most Common Questions Asked by Tenants—Answered
1. “I can pay 6 months up front. Can I move in this weekend?”
Whenever a prospective tenant offers to pay “X” number of months up front, there is a reason, and it’s usually not a good one for the landlord. In fact, it’s a big ol’ red flag. Usually it means they are aware of something that will affect them negatively in their background, and they are hoping the dollar signs will dissuade the landlord from properly screening them. Accepting prepaid rent from a risky tenant doesn’t help the landlord at all. When that prepaid rent runs out, that tenant is still risky, and the landlord has no additional securities to compensate for that.
Furthermore, should the case arise where you are forced to evict the tenant, prepaid rent can definitely muddy the waters. If you are inclined to rent to someone who doesn’t quite meet your qualifications standards, you would be much better off requiring an additional security deposit as allowed by your local laws. So, here’s a good response for dealing with questions of this nature: “We don’t accept prepaid rent; however, you are welcome to fill out our application, and after we have properly processed it and verified that you meet all of the qualification standards for the home, we would be happy to talk about getting you into the home by this weekend.” After this response, chances are they will disappear and move on to the next unsuspecting landlord.
2. “I know you said you don’t allow pets, but would a small dog be OK?”
The answer to this question should be easy; however, for some reason when people ask this question, it can be hard to be firm. Maybe it’s because a lot of us are animal lovers at heart. If you really are uncomfortable with the idea of having pets in the property, a polite “I’m sorry, but this home is strictly a pet-free home” should be sufficient. However, if after meeting your prospective tenant and finding out they have a pet you decide to allow it, at least require additional securities, such as a pet fee or an additional deposit, and add a Pet Addendum to your lease.
3. “Can I pay my deposit in installments?”
The landlord should always collect all of the move-in funds in full prior to letting the tenant obtain occupancy. If they can’t afford the security deposit, they probably aren’t very good at handling their money. This is a good indication you’ll have trouble later. Early in our career, we used to allow tenants to do this until we realized that it never worked, not even once!
Unless you enjoy chasing down security deposit payments on your weekends and evenings, simply respond to this question with a firm, “Our policy states the security deposit must be paid in full prior to getting the keys. Do you have any family or friends who would lend you the funds?” Ending with a question of your own puts the ball in their court and allows you to move on to the next applicant. Amazingly, almost every time we have this conversation with a potential tenant, they come up with the money after all and were simply trying to prioritize their spending. In this case, you just made yourself the priority, setting a great precedent for the future of their tenancy.
4. “Can I take possession in two months?”
This question is a little bit trickier than the others because it depends on your rental market. You need to ask yourself this question: “How will I maximize my income?” For example, if our real estate market is soft and we have a reasonable expectation that the unit might sit vacant for another month or two, we might feel more inclined to hold the unit for the tenant. However, this is seldom the case due to our marketing machine and will likely be the same for you. It truly is a numbers game. If we feel we can make more in the long term by holding it, we’ll do that; if not, we won’t. Sometimes you won’t be sure, and you’ll have to trust your instinct.
Keep in mind, the tenant’s move-in date is a point of negotiation. For example, the tenant may ask us if they can move in four weeks from the time they applied. If we really like the tenant and we think it’s in our financial best interest, we will try to split the difference and reply, “We can only hold the unit for up to two weeks; however, we would require a deposit to hold the unit. Does that sound reasonable?” Nine times out of ten, the tenant will agree to this compromise.
5. “Can my due date be the 15th?”
“No.” Trust us on this one. It might be fine on your first unit or two, but as you gain experience and build your portfolio, you will quickly regret your decision to allow your tenants to have different due dates. Having the rent due on the first is standard in the rental industry. Again, this question may indicate they are not good at handling their money. It’s not necessarily a deal-killer, but it’s definitely a sign that they live paycheck to paycheck (as many tenants do).
6. “Do you accept the ____ Program?”
There are many assistance programs that are available to low-income tenants to help them with their rent. Personally, we’ve had issues accepting tenants on programs with the understanding that it was guaranteed income, only to discover how quickly and easily a tenant can lose the funding. This leaves the landlord holding the bag with a tenant who clearly cannot qualify on their own.
Of course, there may be excellent programs out there that we are not aware of, so we would recommend asking around to local landlords for advice. If you simply don’t want to deal with these programs, your best response to this question may simply be, “Our policy states your income must equal three times or more the monthly rent.” Keep in mind that Section 8 is a protected class in some areas, so do your due diligence and make sure you’re not violating Fair Housing Laws before making any decisions.
7. “Are you the owner?”
This question also isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it is completely up to you as to how you will answer it. Generally potential tenants aren’t asking if you’re the owner simply because they are curious, but because they see the owner as the ultimate authority and the person who can grant them special privileges or exceptions to the rules in regard to the rental. If you’re a non-confrontational type of person, you may be tempted to make an exception (that you will quickly regret) to your rules or policies simply to avoid an awkward conversation. For this reason, you may want to consider adopting the name “property manager,” rather than “owner” for your tenants.
If you are “only the property manager,” tenants seem to have a much easier time understanding why you can’t accommodate certain requests. We first heard of this strategy when we were new, 21-year-old landlords from Mike Butler’s book Landlording on Autopilot, and it has helped us on many different occasions transform ourselves from the guy who can bend the rules to the guy who’s simply doing his or her job in managing the property. So, if you’d rather not disclose that you’re the owner, don’t. When faced with the question “are you the owner,” you may simply want to respond with, “I am the property manager for this home” and leave it at that. It’s not a lie, simply an omission of all the facts, which they have no business knowing.
8. “Will you consider a short-term lease?”
Turnovers and vacancies can be two of the most expensive processes the landlord goes through, not to mention the time that goes into filling a vacancy, so most landlords look for long term tenants, and many refuse to do anything shorter than a year lease. However, if the rental market is slow and you can compensate for the fact that the lease would be short term by charging more for rent for that privilege, it’s not necessarily a bad idea.
Before making that decision, though, you will want to consider the time of year and the month the lease would be expiring. The last thing you want is to agree to a short term lease, only to have it expire in the dead of winter, which also happens to be the worst time to fill a vacancy. If we are not accommodating short term rentals and are faced with that request, we simply state: “Our lease is a minimum of one year, though we are always looking for tenants who plan to stay much longer.”
9. “I’m in a hurry. Can I pay the rent and move in today?”
This question is a giant red flag and should always be met with extreme caution. There really are no good reasons for someone needing to be in that much of a hurry to move. A response along the lines of “You are certainly welcome to fill out our application, and after it has been properly processed to ensure you meet all of our qualification standards, we would be happy to discuss your move-in date in a couple days” should be sufficient to send them on their merry way.
10. “My boyfriend/mom/sister wants to live with me, but I don’t want them on the lease. Is that OK?”
Let’s start this paragraph off with a scenario. Say this tenant moves in as the only person on the lease, and you agree to allow her boyfriend/mom/sister/whoever to move in with her without being on the lease. What happens if your tenant on the lease leaves and her roommates stay? You are left with a legal tenant(s) with whom you have no contract. Besides that, there are usually legitimate reasons the tenant doesn’t want the roommate on the lease with them, and none of those reasons bode well for the landlord. In this situation, it’s best to respond with, “Anyone over the age of 18 living in the home must fill out an application, meet our screening requirements, and be on the lease. I’m sorry, but we cannot make an exception to this policy.”
11. “What if I don’t meet all of your criteria?”
When prospective tenants ask this question, it’s usually because they know they do not. Some issues, such as a lack of rental history, aren’t necessarily a deal killer and can be compensated by requiring additional securities or a co-signer. In this situation, it’s wise to get some more information from the tenant.
What if You Don’t Know the Answer?
Whenever you are unsure of your response to a question from a prospective tenant, especially if it has to do with special requests or alterations to your policies, don’t feel bad about not answering right away; it is perfectly acceptable to let them know you will have to get back to them. This allows you to separate yourself from the immediate situation and go home and think on it. Ask yourself, “Is this decision the best one for my business?”
This is also where the BiggerPockets Forums come in extremely handy. Post a question now, and within a few hours, you’ll have potentially dozens of experienced landlords chiming in to help. Many of the questions that potential tenants ask are the same, and you will get them many times over in your landlording career. This allows you to determine your answer ahead of time, so you are prepared with your response before the question is ever even posed.
[Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Brandon Turner’s The Book on Managing Rental Properties.]
Would you answer these questions the same way? Any others you’d add to this list?
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