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Questions to Ask Your Potential Tenant

How do you sort out good potential tenants from the bad? By getting to know them, of course. Having the right questions to ask potential tenants can make sorting through a long list of applications far easier.

One very important thing to point out: any question you ask one potential tenant, you must ask every potential tenant. Asking different questions of different people can be discriminatory, so it’s best to avoid that possibility entirely.

Some basics

  • Do you currently rent, and where?: Pretty straightforward question, just looking to see what their current living situation is and where they’d be moving from.
  • Why are you looking to move?: There are many different reasons to move, and they can tell you a lot about the person.
  • When would you want to move in?: If you’re looking to fill the unit before they want to move in, you’re probably not going to want to wait for them unless they’re an incredibly attractive tenant with something great to offer you.
  • How long have you lived where you currently live?: If they haven’t lived there for long, it may be a sign that they won’t be a long term tenant and you’ll be back to searching sooner rather than later. If it’s not been a long time, you may want to get more information on why, such as what they said to “Why are you looking for a new place?”.

Financial situation/rental history

  • What’s your income?: This is obvious, giving you an idea of how easily they’d be able to pay the rent. You probably don’t want to rent to someone who makes less than three times the cost of rent, though that can vary by income level and area.
  • Is there anything in your credit history I should know about?: This is their opportunity to be honest and straightforward. Bad credit doesn’t mean someone is a bad renter, so give them the chance to explain why if there’s something there that might look like a red flag.
  • Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?: Similar to the last question, you want to know this kind of thing as soon as possible. It’s a red flag, but not the end of the world.
  • Can you pay for the application fee/security deposit/other move-in costs?: If they have trouble coming up with the money for these things right now, it’s not a good sign for being able to pay rent consistently later.
  • Do you have a roommate, or plan on having one?: While this could go under “Living situation”, living with a roommate is as much a financial decision as much as anything else. If they have a roommate, you need to consider both of their income/assets when making a leasing decision.
  • Have you ever been evicted?: This can be a real red flag, and if it happened, you’ll want to hear it from the tenant themselves, not find it when doing a background check or talking to prior landlords.
  • Can you provide references from your employer/landlord?: You’ll want to get these references anyway, so asking for them now saves you some trouble in tracking them down later.

Living situation

  • Do you have pets?: You’ll likely have higher costs that get passed on to your tenant when they have pets. This question is especially relevant if you keep your building pet-free, for obvious reasons.
  • How many people are living with you?: Ask about this in terms of people, not a family (see "What you can’t ask about, below). You want to match people to a reasonable sized apartment for the number of tenants, preferably avoiding situations like four people living in a one-bedroom apartment.
  • How long would you want to live here?: If they’re looking to live here for six months and you want to rent for a year, they might not be the best match.

Miscellaneous

  • Why should I rent to you, and not someone else?: This can lead to a really interesting answer. Ask them why they’d be the best person to rent to, and see what answers they give. It’s probably not going to be enough on its own to rent to them over everyone else, but it can give you some interesting insight.
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?: Like the questions about bankruptcy and credit history, this isn’t necessarily a reason to drop a potential tenant. Give them a chance to explain things and why that doesn’t mean they’d be a bad tenant.
  • Do you have any questions?: You never know what your tenants would want to know, so ask them. Give them the chance to ask you anything about the rental, and use that feedback to help you better advertise your property to other people. If you see a trend in the questions, it’s clearly something people are interested in.

What you can’t ask about

While the above isn’t exhaustive, there are some things you can’t ask about at all while deciding which tenant to choose. Nationally, there are seven:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Familial status

There are also probably other protected classes based on state or local laws, such as citizenship status or sexuality. Make sure to check with a lawyer who knows the law in your area before putting these questions out to potential tenants.

Categories: Landlords

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About the Author
Steffi Cook

Steffi Cook is the head of content for Rentals.com. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her on the tennis court, hiking in the mountains or trying a new restaurant.