It’s hard to tell who’s going to be the right fit when choosing tenants. These 10 questions can help.
Finding a tenant? Easy. Finding the right tenant? Not necessarily.
Even with potential renters waiting in line to sneak a peek at your freshly painted rental, being picky pays off. From unpaid rent, expensive maintenance repairs and the legal fees associated with an eviction, settling on the wrong tenant could cost a small-time landlord, big.
So how do you find the tenants you want? Simple: Ask the right screening questions with every potential tenant. Sure, there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up with Mr. or Ms. Perfect, but finding the right fit is a lot easier when you have the information you need to make a wise decision.
Here are ten key questions every landlord should ask a potential tenant:
1. Why are you moving?
As much of a conversation starter as it is a learning tool, the prospective tenant’s answer can be revealing. For example, it’s not a good sign if a prospective tenant says, “I’m moving because I didn’t like my landlord.” Look for answers like, “I’m changing jobs” or “We need more space.”
2. Do you have references from an employer and a former landlord?
Employment references verify that the tenant is working and has a viable income—clearly vital for deciding whether an applicant can pay the rent. Also ask for references from a prior landlord (in addition to the current landlord). If the current landlord wants to get rid of this particular tenant, he or she may not be 100 percent honest with you if the tenant is less-than-stellar. By talking to a former landlord, you’ll have a better chance of getting an honest assessment of the tenant’s dependability.
3. Will you agree to a background/credit check?
If your prospective tenant is freaked out by the thought of a background check, then ask them to move on. It doesn’t necessarily mean the applicant has something to hide, but without getting their permission, and then actually performing the background or credit check, you have no way of knowing. Stick to a simple policy: no background check, no keys.
4. What’s your monthly income?
A tenant who pays the rent on time should be at the top of your wish list. If you’re just starting out as a landlord, it might surprise you that your definition of “affordable” doesn’t quite tally with your prospective tenant’s—so do the math yourself. According to industry standards, a tenant should have a monthly income that’s approximately two-and-a-half to three times the cost of the rent.
5. Who will live with you?
If you pride yourself on keeping a quiet, well-maintained property, you probably won’t want to discover that a dozen college boys are bunking down there every night.
6. Have you ever been evicted?
If the answer to this question is yes, proceed with caution. There may be extenuating circumstances that absolve the tenant, but you can often chalk up a prior eviction to the “red flag” zone.
7. Do you have pets?
If you have a no-pets policy, make it clear from the outset. If you do allow pets with a deposit, make sure to get the details in writing, including the number of pets you’ll allow. But remember, you can’t exclude service dogs—they’re not considered pets, but working animals.
8. When are you moving?
Make sure that your move-in dates are in-line with your tenants. Otherwise, your tenant may show up with a moving van on the very day that you scheduled to get the carpets cleaned. Also, if the tenant seems vague about the move-in date, it may signify more “vagueness” (which could translate as “irresponsibility”) in the future when it comes to important things like move-out dates and rent due dates.
9. Do you ever plan to sublet?
If you’re renting out an apartment, house or duplex and you have a strict “no subletting” policy, you need to make this clear from the outset. This could even include short term rentals like with Airbnb or VRBO.
10. Can you pay the first month’s rent and full security deposit on or before your move-in day?
If you require an FLS payment (first month, last month, security deposit), make sure that your tenant can pay the entire amount prior to moving in. If there’s a problem, it may be a harbinger of more “problems” when rent time rolls around every month.
To protect your property and your rental income, it’s important to be clear, fair and assertive when screening tenants. Also, keep in mind that asking these questions is just a first step. Actually run those background checks, make those reference calls, verify paystubs, and get everything in writing with a Lease Agreement once you’ve settled on the right tenant.