Selecting the tenants best suited for your rental property is critical for landlords. Failing to do so can mean at the very least unhappy tenants and an unhappy landlord, but also possibly lost revenue in unpaid rent, expensive property damages, or a costly and time-consuming eviction process. In addition to using a rental criteria checklist for screening prospective tenants or a credit screening service to screen applicants once they have applied, having a list of pre-screening questions to ask potential tenants before they even apply is a necessary step in the process. It can save you time by only moving forward with rental showings and applications from just the best suited applicants for your property.
What is Pre-Screening And Why Should I Do It?
Pre-screening is the process of finding and selecting prospective tenants before they even apply. This can begin as soon as you create your listing advertisement. It also continues the moment you first communicate with them, as well as when you meet them in person and show the rental. At each point, you are able to both indicate certain criteria you require for tenancy as well as ask questions to determine whether or not the potential applicants are able to meet those standards. Creating a list of questions to ask potential tenants will help ensure you are getting the information you need as well as creating a fair and objective analysis.
Processing applications, checking references and running background checks all take time and money. If everyone who saw your rental advertisement immediately submitted an application, you may have a large pool of applicants to choose from, but going through them all would be time consuming, costly and frustrating. Rental showings also take precious time out of your schedule, especially during evenings and weekends when you might rather be somewhere else.
Once a potential renter submits an application, you must go through the process of screening and selecting an applicant. Plus, some jurisdictions like Seattle now require landlords to accept the first qualified applicant who applies.
However, you can save time and money by attracting only the best quality tenants during the pre-screening process. Pre-screening helps eliminate candidates who are not a good match for your rental. For example, your criteria you set for your price or available move-in date may eliminate many possible applicants who don’t have the budget or require an earlier or later move in. Don’t waste your and the prospective tenant’s time showing the apartment, filling out applications, and running credit reports if you can determine they will not be a good fit right off the bat. It’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to the applicant. Consequently, you should only do this for the tenants who really are most qualified and for those who you think would actually move in.
Understand The Law
Discrimination in housing is illegal. Above all, understand the law and make sure your screening criteria and pre-screening questions you ask potential tenants is compliant with local rules and regulations. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Questions to Ask Potential Tenants
There are 3 main opportunities for you to be pre-screening prospective tenants: listing your ad, fielding responses from interested parties, and during rental showings.
Pre-Screening in Your Rental Listing Advertisement
First, start by listing some of your pre-screening criteria in your rental listing advertisement. While you do want to create interest and excitement around your vacancy, not everyone view the ad will be a good fit. You can include criteria and requirements such as:
- No pets allowed
- No smoking in the unit or on the premises
- Income to rent ratio of at least “X” times the monthly rental
- 12-month lease
- Credit checks and employment verification required
- First month rent and security deposit required at lease signing
In Seattle now, your criteria must be posted with the advertisement. Learn more about the new law.
Questions For Interviews with Potential Tenants
Some people seeing your listing will know that they won’t qualify, and will move on to other ads right away. For those that do indicate interest in learning more or viewing the property, you can further pre-screen by conducting a short pre-screening question and answer interview, either by phone or email. This gets them thinking further about whether the rental really is a good fit, and also indicates that you are serious about finding the best match for your property.
You do not need to have applicants write a dissertation about themselves, but simply ask “conversation starter” questions to the potential tenants such as:
- Where do you currently live?
- Why are you looking to move?
- What is your current rent?
- How long have you lived there?
- Where do you work?
- What is your pre-tax income?
You can also ask how long they plan to stay, if they will have any roommates, pets, and if they smoke or not. This is also a good time to reiterate the requirements you set out in the listing ad, and confirm they understand the move-in costs, credit, background, and reference checks, pay stubs and any other documents they will need to procure. You do not need to ask them about their criminal background (which may be illegal in some places anyways) or to list out their rental history. This will be handled in the application. However, you should try to avoid yes/no questions, or have them explain their answers if possible. For example:
- Do you have pets? If so, how many and what kind?
- How many people will occupy the unit?
- When do you need to move in?
- Have you given notice to your current landlord?
This is a good time to re-state the application fee or what your tenant screening service will charge them, if applicable.
If they are not comfortable answering these questions, they may not be serious or do not feel they will qualify and won’t take any more of your time.
Pre-Screening Questions While Showing Your Rental to Potential Tenants
Finally, if they proceed and wish to view the rental property, you can schedule a showing. This is your next step to pre-screen your prospective applicants.
Show details of property that may be highlights, or even deal-breakers. Hiding things that might discourage potential tenants will only lead to disappointment and complaints after they move in so be up-front and honest about everything.
Discuss the application process and screening process. You may want to show them your screening criteria, and in some places it is required to have it posted. Also, confirm that you will be performing credit, background and reference checks, and that they are comfortable with that. You can also look for other signs that might inform you about whether they will respect the property and your rental agreement should they become tenants:
- Was the applicant on time for scheduled appointments?
- Did he or she provide adequate notice when changing or cancelling appointments?
- Did the prospective tenant follow all stated rules and policies while viewing the property?
Rental Showing Suggestions:
- Meet each applicant separately rather than hold an open house. You will be able to interact and better pre-screen them individually if you are not distracted by multiple parties showing up at the same time.
- Clean and/or stage the property.
- Arrive early to turn on lights, open blinds, air out smells, etc.
- Similarly, come prepared to clean, sweep, replace light bulbs, etc.
- Do it when current tenants are not there if possible. Provide proper notice, usually 24 hours, and consider rewarding them with a gift card to a restaurant or coffee shop they can go to while you are showing it.
- Show the entire property. Disclose any known issues and answer questions honestly. You don’t want tenants to discover problems as soon as they move in. They will feel misled and it will create a contentious relationship from the outset as a result.
- Post and discuss criteria if required by law. For example, Seattle’s First in Time law requires the landlord’s selection criteria to be posted on the property.
- Ask Questions. This is your last, best opportunity to pre-screen applicants. Make sure you have your list of questions to ask potential tenants and learn more about them as they tour the property. This helps eliminate tenants who may not be a good fit and can save both you and them time and resources during the application process.
Pre-screening and asking important questions of potential tenants is invaluable when it is time to list and while showing your rental. Renting to unqualified applicants or poor tenants may prove costly down the road. However, if you follow the above steps to pre-screen during the listing, scheduling and rental showing stages, you strive to attract only the highest quality tenants that would be best matched to apply and choose to live in your rental home.
Once you are ready to start accepting applications, you may want to look at an online property management product that offers online applications and tenant screening solutions. Some of the best options include:
ApplyConnect is a no-cost tenant screening solution for landlords and property managers who don’t manage hundreds of properties. Screen tenants, market your vacancies, and lease legally and securely for free. Complete credit and background reports are available for just $28.50 – paid completely by the applicant.
ApplyConnect is a winner in our Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords
RentPrep focuses solely on providing tenant screening services. They are a team of FCRA Certified Screeners that work inside a real background check company located near Buffalo, NY. RentPrep aims to provide comprehensive tenant screening using real-live intelligence to help landlords identify the best possible tenants for their rental property. Get started by signing up for your free RentPrep account.
RentPrep is a winner in our Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords
ClearNow is an easy-to-use and reliable service focusing on tenant screening and online rent collection. Rent is debited from your tenant’s bank account and directly deposited to your bank account. ClearNow has been automating rent payment since 2000, and serves landlords and property managers of ALL sizes (1+ units). Rent payment always directly deposited 3 banking days after the debit day. Use ClearNow Online Rent Payment to Collect Rent Automatically!
ClearNow is a winner in our Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords
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