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Pre-Screening Questions to Ask Applicants

Every landlord aims to choose a reliable tenant, and the initial step involves posing pertinent questions. When renting out your property to an individual or a group, it’s essential to conduct an interview and gather specific information that enables you to comprehend and become acquainted with your prospective tenants. This is a commonly recommended aspect of the tenant application screening process.

Before we get started

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, country of origin, marital status, sexual orientation, and other factors. Take additional precautions by reviewing local and state landlord-tenant laws, and familiarize yourself with the FHA beforehand to gain insights into what inquiries are not permissible when screening renters.

When are you looking to move in?

Be cautious when considering a prospective tenant eager to move in right away, as appealing as it may seem. Landlords often require a 30-day notice for lease termination, and unforeseen circumstances, such as eviction or unexpected life events like job changes, wage reductions, or domestic issues, can arise. In general, responsible renters start their apartment search at least a month before their intended move-in date. It’s crucial to conduct thorough tenant credit and background checks in such situations.

Do you own pets?

Landlords may have varying preferences when it comes to approving certain types of pets. Even if you’ve declared yourself a pet-friendly landlord, it’s understandable to want more details, considering the difference between a Great Dane puppy and a placid old lizard. Even if you don’t strictly prohibit pets, it’s essential to be informed about the specific type, weight, and breed of the pet. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of being a pet-friendly landlord, as well as alternative options for pet deposits.

How many parking spaces do you need?

This inquiry is crucial as it enables the property owner to make essential preparations. Every landlord aims for their property to have appeal. Additionally, parking availability in an apartment complex or other rental properties may be limited. Knowing the number of cars that will be regularly parked on the property can help a landlord make informed decisions, especially if they wish to avoid cars on the sidewalk or occupying space that neighbors should have access to.

Do you agree to a background and credit check?

Landlords often conduct background and credit checks on potential candidates. If a renter declines to undergo these checks, you have the option to promptly exclude them from your list of potential tenants. When applicants submit their applications, ensure they provide written authorization for these checks to be conducted; verbal confirmation is insufficient.

Do you or anyone applying smoke?

Landlords possess the power to control or prohibit smoking throughout the entire leased property, including individual apartments in the absence of anti-smoking regulations. Despite the health concerns related to secondhand smoke, landlords commonly enforce smoking bans to minimize fire hazards, lower insurance costs, and eliminate stains and odors.

In cases where a lease or rental agreement has been established without a smoke-free provision, a landlord can insist that tenants sign a separate smoke-free addendum agreement.

Why did you decide to move?

This inquiry during tenant screening can elicit diverse answers, such as relocation for work, marriage, a need for more space, or a desire for a change of environment. Regardless, these responses offer valuable insights to the landlord. If the explanation provided seems unreasonable, it should raise a significant red flag.

This question allows you to comprehend the reasons behind a prospective renter’s move. If the given response appears dubious, it is advisable to reject their rental application.

Have you ever been evicted?

Thorough screening procedures can address this concern, but engaging in face-to-face discussions with prospective renters allows them to elaborate on their circumstances. Past evictions may signal future ones, so exercise caution if the response is affirmative. However, given the widespread financial challenges stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic, with many experiencing income loss and delayed payments, it becomes crucial to carefully evaluate each unique situation.

Have you ever had to break a lease?

As you pose this question, it’s important to approach it with empathy and take into account the entirety of the rental application. A tenant with a single broken lease yet demonstrating a solid payment history and positive references is still likely to be a reliable tenant. Life circumstances can lead to lease terminations, and although it’s not an ideal situation, the renter may have been compelled to make that choice due to factors such as job loss, the need to relocate for caregiving responsibilities, or other compelling reasons.

We strongly advise conducting a comprehensive background check alongside pre-screening questions to enhance your decision-making process. Candidates might provide unclear or misleading answers, exhibit selective memory, or invent responses if uncertain.

Utilizing pre-screening questions is a straightforward method to attract desirable tenants, efficiently screen them, and ultimately save time in the process.