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Lease Confidently with Rocket Lawyer

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Lease Confidently with Rocket Lawyer

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1. Why are you moving?

Asking a prospective tenant why they’re moving is a good conversation starter and gives the tenant the opportunity to tell you a bit about themselves. Even common answers such as “I took a higher-paying job” or “We need more space for our growing family” reveals important information about a prospective tenant’s motivations, priorities, and plans. Other answers, especially dissatisfaction with their current landlord, might imply a need for caution.

This initial exchange can also be used to ensure the prospective tenant’s timeline for moving aligns with your own goals for getting the property rented. 

2. Do you have references from your employer and former landlord?

The best indicator of a prospective tenant’s dependability as a tenant is how they acted in similar relationships in the past. Generally, it’s better to talk to references on the phone or via a video call to assess their credibility through vocal and physical cues that text or email communication can obscure.

Beyond verifying their consistent on-time payment of rent, also ask references about the prospective tenant’s relationships with neighbors, their treatment of the property, and any problems they may have caused the landlord. If possible, be sure to talk to at least one landlord other than the tenant’s current landlord, since landlords eager to get rid of a troublesome tenant have an incentive to be less-than-honest in their assessments. 

Employment references can verify that the prospective tenant is working and has sufficient income, and can speak to their level of responsibility and diligence. 

3. Will you agree to a background and credit check?

Background and credit checks can uncover red flags that a tenant may not disclose on their Rental Application. The fact that someone refuses a background check doesn’t necessarily mean they have something to hide, but it creates an unacceptable level of risk for a landlord. One way to reassure tenants who are concerned about background and credit checks is to guarantee them confidentiality and the opportunity to explain any concerning results before being ruled out.

4. Have you ever been evicted or broken a lease?

A prior eviction signals that something went so wrong in one of the prospective tenant’s past rental relationships that their landlord spent the time and resources necessary to evict them. Similarly, a tenant who has broken a Lease Agreement in the past may do so in the future. The presence of either in a prospective tenant’s rental history is a signal to proceed with extreme caution. 

Not every situation involving a broken lease or eviction is the tenant’s fault. Gather as much information about such situations as possible, paying special attention to recency and any extenuating circumstances. If the prospective tenant is not forthcoming with these details, it’s best to move on. If they offer a reasonable explanation, you may want to request documentation, or to speak with that former landlord.

5. Can you pay the first month’s rent and full security deposit on or before your move-in day?

The ability and willingness to pay the rent and security deposit up front indicates the prospective tenant’s financial stability and intention to abide by the terms of the lease. It also protects the landlord from difficult situations. Once a tenant moves in, unless they agree to move out, they can only be removed through the formal court process of eviction.

6. What is your monthly income?

Paying the rent on time every month is among the most important traits landlords look for in tenants. Due to the difficulty of eviction, tenants may shirk rent before other, more immediate financial concerns when money gets tight. Ideal tenants make enough money to pay rent, comfortably cover their other expenses for the month, and put some money aside for saving. A good rule of thumb is that prospective tenants’ income should be two-and-a-half to three times the monthly rent. Consider confirming tenants’ stated income by asking for recent paystubs or a salary verification letter from their employer.

If there are concerns about an otherwise desirable tenant’s ability to pay rent, landlords may consider having them sign a Co-Signer Agreement. By signing such an agreement, the co-signer agrees to pay the rent if the tenant fails to do so.

7. Who will live with you?

Each person residing at a property adds wear and tear and creates potential liabilities for landlords. Landlords also have a legal duty to ensure that the number of individuals residing on their property does not exceed the limit prescribed by their city or state’s building codes. As such, it is vital for landlords to know the identity of each person living at a rental property at all times. Ask potential tenants whether they have family members who will or might live with them, as well as whether they plan to have roommates or to sublet a spare room or the whole property. Formalize such arrangements via a Room Rental Agreement or Sublease Agreement to gain additional control and security over who lives on rental property.

8. Do you or anyone in your household work odd hours or play an instrument?

Prospective tenants who work odd hours, play instruments, work from home, or engage in other loud or inconvenient behaviors may create conflict with potential neighbors. Often conflicts between neighbors require landlords to get involved. Assessing a prospective tenant’s compatibility with neighbors in advance helps landlords avoid these types of conflicts.

Whether such behaviors should disqualify a prospective tenant depends on the circumstances: a tenant who practices the trombone at 2 a.m. is obviously less of a problem in a farmhouse surrounded by open fields than in a full city apartment building. Learning about such behaviors also creates the possibility to address them in the Lease Agreement or Month-to-Month Rental Agreement, for example by including a section that restricts loud noise, such as instruments, from being played during certain hours. Customizing a contract can be intimidating, to get help writing appropriate lease terms, you can always ask a lawyer.

9. Do you have pets?

Pets can cause wear and tear to the rental property that far exceeds that caused by their human owners, including shed fur, claw or bite marks, and droppings. Some landlords prohibit pets altogether, while others require an additional security deposit, often nonrefundable, to cover any property damage caused by the pet. Asking prospective tenants about pets allows landlords to communicate their pet policy up front, such as with a Pet Application Form, and rule out any tenants unwilling to follow it. It is important to note, however, that a service animal is not a pet, and no additional security deposit or fee can be collected.

10. Do you have a car or require parking?

Access to onsite parking is a major logistical issue that you may want to sort out before a prospective tenant signs a lease. Ask whether the tenant requires parking and outline what parking is available, and any additional costs. Guaranteed parking space, whether in a driveway, garage, or on the street, should be noted in the lease or a separate Parking Space Lease, as well as any restrictions on where and when a tenant may park their vehicle.

If you have questions about leasing, or a prospective tenant’s responses to these questions, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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