Property Management, Tenant Management, Tenant Screening

Questions You Need to Ask During Tenant Screening

tenant screening questions

When you first decide to rent one of your properties, the first thing you will need to do is set-up questions for a tenant screening process. Most seasoned landlords will even recommend asking some pre-screening questions at the beginning, before even dedicating the necessary time to showing a unit, let alone conducting background and credit checks. An effective screening process, however, regardless of the stage, depends on the quality of questions you choose. 

Asking the right questions in the screening process is the first step to getting a suitable tenant for your property. These questions allow you to evaluate whether the renter can meet your expectations and if they are the right fit for you. They will also get a feel of the likeness of their application’s acceptance for whether their application is likely to be accepted and may not pursue the property if not, which saves everyone time and expense.  Here are some questions to help optimize your tenant screening process, that will cut down on your auditing process and reliably eliminate bad candidates:

Know Anti-Discrimination Laws Before You Begin!

There are several classes of people who are protected by anti-discrimination laws, meaning you may not choose or decline applicants based on those criteria.  Race, sex, and disability are a few.  Make sure you know and understand these laws before you start advertising rentals and screening tenants!

internal link Related: The Best Tenant Screening Service for Small Landlords

Our Favorite Tenant Screening Services for Small Landlords:

  • Best Overall – RentPrep: RentPrep ONLY provides tenant screening services, and really delivers for landlords by offering both custom-designed in-house products as well as TransUnion SmartMove reporting. RentPrep gives customers great flexibility to order the information and format they want most. Read our overview or visit RentPrep to learn more.
  • Best Free – ApplyConnect: Apply Connect is the easy winner if you want to screen tenants in the simplest, fastest way possible. They ONLY do screening, and getting reports is a simple as sending an invitation to your applicants. They pay $29.95 directly and you have their comprehensive background in seconds. Read our overview or visit ApplyConnect to learn more.
  • Best Full Featured Service – Avail: Avail offers a full complement of property management features in addition to tenant screening. For landlords managing small-medium sized portfolios all steps of managing tenancies are streamlined in a simple and comprehensive package. Read our overview or visit Avail to learn more.

Suggested Tenant Screening Questions

1. When do you want to move in?

This is a primary question we suggest you lead with for every tenant screening process. Availability is one of the most critical aspects of any renting process. Sometimes, tenants will want to move in before the property is available, or their move-in date will leave your rental vacant for too long.  Answering this question early will also help establish timelines for all subsequent forms and payments.

2. Why do you want to move?

This is an important question in tenant screening as it reveals the renter’s motive in moving. Most of the time it is because of changes in their workplace or living situation. But the renter’s response will let you know if they are moving for a negative reason, say conflict with a landlord, or even eviction. You should cross-check their answer with their previous landlord. 

3. What is your monthly income?

Non-payment of rent is the top concern of landlords, making it one of the first questions you should ask your prospective renter. Ideally, their income should be three times the rent of the property. Knowing their level of income will help you determine if they are a right fit for your property and its monthly rate. We recommend setting criteria for acceptance of an applicant.  There’s no need to proceed with showings, applications, and screening reports if they don’t meet the income threshold you’ve set.  

Additionally, you can request their credit reports to better understand their financial situation.  We look for large debt payments in those reports and deduct those from their income if they dramatically reduce the amount of money an applicant has to spend each month.

4. How many people will live in the property?

This is another important question in the tenant screening process because each adult tenant is required to apply separately and co-sign the lease agreement. For that reason, you must conduct individual screening of each applicant. Additionally, many states and cities have laws regulating the maximum occupancy based on the number of bedrooms. Therefore, you should know whether the property is spacious enough for all occupants.  Conversely, you should know your local laws about whether and how you can limit occupancy!

5. Can you provide landlord and employer references?

References are an important part of the tenant application process. They give you an overview of the prospective renter and help you determine if they are a good fit. Job references are usually used to confirm employment and income information. And previous landlord references indicate whether the person is a reliable tenant or not. You should also ask questions about rent, bill payments, and behavior with neighbors. For first-time tenants, you can ask them to provide a personal character reference endorsed by people who have a history with the prospective renter in question. 

As a landlord, it is well within your rights to run background and credit checks of the applicant. Before doing so, you must obtain a written consent form that the candidate agrees to such inspection. Oral consent is not sufficient. 

If such checks are a part of your rental criteria, you can automatically filter out applicants who do not consent. Moreover, you can follow up by asking if there is anything the applicant would like to share before you run a check. Faced with the knowledge that you will probably find out adverse information in your screening process some people will let you know about bad credit, past legal problems, etc. This allows you to understand any blind spots in the applicant’s reports and evaluate accordingly. 

We use property management software for the entire process of advertising, applications, screening, as well as many other aspects of tenant management.  One advantage of these services is that applicants can purchase screening reports directly. This saves us the time of collecting fees, getting consent, ordering reports, and keeping them in a secure place.

7. Are you able to pay the application fee?

You should let the applicant know that running background checks and credit checks costs a fee. This fee usually ranges from $30-$55. Normally a part of the application, this fee is usually covered by the prospective renter. Normally, the landlord would ask the applicant if they are okay with covering this fee. This question can also filter out applicants who are not serious about renting your property.  As mentioned above, property management software services save you this hassle, as prospective tenants order and pay for screening reports directly.

8. Do you smoke?

Unless you’ve decided you’re going to allow smoking in your rental you must ask this question, as smoking may inflict property damage and increase insurance costs. Not to mention bothering other tenants and neighbors. As a landlord, it is well within your right to have a no-smoking policy in your property.  We always clearly state that we do not allow smoking in our rental advertising, however we’ve been surprised how many people will inquire anyway and not mention that they smoke.

It might be the case that the prospective renter is not honest when you ask this question upfront. Make sure to reiterate the non-smoking policy to your renter and the consequences that follow any non-compliance. Also, make sure to ask their rental references whether they smoked, and include a no-smoking clause in the rental agreement. 

 9. Do you have any pets?

As a landlord, you have the right to determine whether or not you want to allow pets on your property. If the applicant has a pet(s) and you do not allow pets on your property, it will save you and the applicant from wasting time and money.  

If you allow pets, you should ask the applicant which animal they have, what breed, and any other issues they should be aware of. Some landlords also ask for a pet deposit in case of any damage done by the renter’s pets.  You must know the laws around Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals.  We’ve written an article on those issues, but we also recommend consulting a lawyer if you’re unsure about how to comply with these laws.

internal link Related: How to Screen Tenants in 7 Easy Steps

Landlord Gurus Takeaway

Asking these important questions as part of your screening process will allow you to filter out a large number of applicants who do not fit your tenant profile, and bring you one step closer to your ideal candidate. You must cross-verify the information provided by applicants during this screening process. Calling references, reviewing background checks and credit reports is therefore essential in effectively screening tenants.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and Landlord Gurus may earn a commission. Our mission remains to provide valuable resources and information that helps landlords manage their rental properties efficiently and profitably. We link to these companies and their products because of their quality, not because of the commission.

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About Chris Lee

Chris Lee, Co-Founder, Landlord Gurus

Chris comes from a family of real estate investors, and remembers well his childhood of helping to clean and paint apartments between renters.

Chris is a licensed real estate broker and now manages a mix of his own property and others for family, consisting of single family homes, multi-family complexes, and the occasional condo unit in and around Seattle. He also has particular insight into the issues around short-term rentals as he has managed those for himself and for other owners on AirBnb, VRBO, and other platforms.

Prior to Landlord Gurus, Chris worked in website development and digital marketing, assisting firms across a wide range of industries. He, along with his wife and two kids, also found themselves living and working overseas for several years.

Upon his return to the US, Chris often turned to Eli for property management advice and help with property maintenance. At this point, the two decided to start Landlord Gurus to help the countless others searching for answers to similar problems.

In his free time, Chris enjoys outdoor sports and activities including baseball, skiing, golf, hiking, and spending time with family and friends.

- BA, Economics - Whitman College
- MA, Pacific International Affairs - University of California, San Diego
- MPA, Public Accounting - Open University of Hong Kong

View all posts by Chris Lee →

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