10 Questions to Ask Potential Renters Before Leasing
Experienced landlords know the best way to avoid issues with a rental home is to ask questions to potential renters before leasing to them. Having a good application and running credit checks take care of many problems, of course. But if you ask questions to potential renters early in the process, you can weed out ones that might prove problematic.
Federal law protects tenants from discrimination. Be sure to follow The Fair Housing Act when screening potential tenants. In addition to these questions (and things to avoid asking about), start the conversation with any of the ones below.
1. Why are you moving?
If prospects complain about their current landlord, chances are good they might end up complaining about you in the future. Listen carefully and see if their perspectives and expectations are reasonable.
2. How soon do you need a new home?
If prospects are in a super hurry and want to move within a couple of weeks, there might be a pending eviction issue or an issue with the current landlord. Think twice! Past behavior is the best indicator of the future.
3. How many people will be living (and parking) here?
Every resident has the potential to damage the home. All occupants will need to be listed on the lease even if only one will be paying the rent. Unless the property is set up for more cars, three vehicles is a good target. Otherwise, they'll be parking on and ruining the lawn.
4. How secure is your income?
Do the prospects plan to stay in their current jobs? Are there opportunities for advancement? Are the jobs salaried or hourly positions? A good rule of thumb for renters is to allocate no more than 30% of a total income to rent payments. Make sure this is realistic for the prospects.
5. Do you have savings?
Verifying that prospects won't be living hand-to-mouth helps protect a landlord. Even a few months of living expenses saved means the tenants will be less likely to break the lease if faced with a layoff or downsizing.
6. Have you lived in a rental home before?
First-time tenants will need guidance on what's expected in the way of maintenance and routine upkeep of the property. They may not realize they're responsible for mowing the lawn, changing HVAC filters, etc. Having this conversation early sets the bar for what's appropriate if the prospects are selected.
7. How long are you planning to stay in this home?
All tenants are expected to live out their leases. But sometimes, circumstances indicate that tenants will be around much longer than the initial term. If they're relocating for new jobs or to attend school in the area, for instance, it's unlikely they'll want to move after just a year, making them solid long-term rental prospects.
8. Is there anything on your credit history we should discuss?
Give prospects a chance to share issues that will show up in a credit report and to provide an explanation. Sometimes things like a period of unemployment or divorce can ding an otherwise solid credit history.
9. What kinds of pets do you have?
Even in rental homes that “don't allow pets," renters may sometimes bring them along. Phrasing your question about pets this way makes it less likely prospects will try to hide the fact that they have one or more. Clearly explain your position on the issue and any applicable pet deposits.
10. Are you able to pay the deposit in full before moving in?
Just like the question about savings, this question will give you a sense of the prospects' financial conditions. Keep in mind that they may need their deposits back from the current rental before having cash on hand to pay a new one.
Knowledge is power
This list of questions to potential renters is a good start. But for even more suggestions on what to ask prospective tenants, do a bit more reading. You'll quickly get a sense of the issues most landlords will want to identify — and avoid.