8 Questions to Ask During the Tenant Screening to Find the Right Renters

by Marisa Upson | Updated: Aug 11, 2023

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, renters made up over 44 million households in 2023. With just over 128 million households in the U.S., that translates to rentals amounting to over 35% of all homes. Owning one of these rental properties offers many benefits but can also bring significant headaches. The best way to protect your investment is to find the ideal renters for your unique property by asking the right tenant screening questions.

Credit checks, rent history, income verification and references play an essential role. But it's the questions you ask during the tenant screening that offer keen insights. Unlike standard questions, these show a person's integrity and values and how long you can expect them to stay.

Let's explore the top eight questions to ask during a screening and the possible red flags that may emerge.

#1 Does your current landlord know you're moving?

Being honest and having integrity are two important values, especially during the first meeting. These principles are particularly essential for your tenant. You want to ensure they won't leave without giving any notice or break their lease with little thought to the consequence.

Let them know that references from past landlords are part of the tenant screening process. Is there something they'd like to share with you before you contact their landlord? If you catch a prospective tenant in a lie, it's best to move on.

#2 Why are you moving?

This answer offers the prospective tenant's motivation for moving. Job relocation or requiring more room is cause for little concern. But an indirect or evasive answer may suggest they had problems with their previous landlord.

Other warning signs include a long list of complaints about their previous rental or neighbors. While loud neighbors or disrespectful property owners are reasonable causes for relocating, a litany of complaints may suggest trouble ahead.

#3 Do you enjoy your current job, and which aspects do you enjoy the most?

As you're well aware, one of the most difficult jobs as a landlord is dealing with unreliable tenants. According to the 2021 American Housing Survey, about 7% of renters demonstrated an inability to pay rent, and about 800,000 were threatened with eviction.

Learning about a potential tenant's work ethic and job satisfaction during the tenant screening helps avoid the fallout when someone loses or quits their job. People who are happy in their current careers and excited about the day-to-day challenges are much more likely to stay the course.

#4 What hours do you work?

Noise from surrounding neighbors is one of the most common tenant complaints landlords deal with. A good way to avoid this scenario is to ensure renters are a good fit for the circadian rhythm of the neighborhood, so to speak.

Do the neighbors work traditional 9-5 jobs? If so, someone working a third-shift position may prove challenging. Are they a freelancer working odd hours from home? If you own a multi-family property with shared walls, digging a little deeper into their work environment may be a good idea.

#5 What are the reasons behind employment gaps or frequent changes?

An applicant who switches jobs every few months or demonstrates gaps in their employment history raises a red flag. A person with a stable employment history is much less risky than someone who gets bored easily or is difficult to get along with.

Of course, we've all left jobs for something better. Just make sure there's not a pattern that may suggest trouble ahead. If an applicant has held the same job for at least six months and seems happy with the position, their explanations for employment gaps may leave you satisfied. If still uncertain, consider checking in with their current employer.

#6 What different places have you lived in the last five years?

This question clues you into their potential as long-term tenants. An established tenant that pays their rent on time and takes care of your property is worth their weight in gold. Reduced turnovers save money and time associated with cleaning, marketing, lost rental income and screening.

If they move frequently and don't offer a good reason, social or financial issues may be at play. This is one of the reasons some landlords prefer renting month-to-month, allowing them to give difficult tenants a 30-day notice.

#7 Is there anything I should know before I run a background check on all adults?

This question provides two insights: It demonstrates your prospective tenant's level of honesty and lets you know if you're wasting time running a background check. While truthfulness should be rewarded, someone who goes on about their wrongful convictions (notice the plural) warrants a red flag.

Another red flag during the tenant screening is if they tell you there's no criminal history and something shows up on a background check. Starting a tenant-landlord relationship with a lie never works out well. But, if they're truthful and they, or someone in the home, has been convicted, you can make an informed decision based on the nature of the crime. Remember that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Fair Housing Act ruled that denying a rental based on an arrest record without a conviction is considered discriminatory.

#8 Is there anything you'd like to ask me?

The answer to this question gives you significant insight into the person's personality and lifestyle. Red flags include:

  • Asking inappropriate questions about other tenants.
  • Talking as if they already have the rental.
  • Demanding unreasonable upgrades and repairs.

Understanding your tenant during the screening

The answers to these questions can help you spot a great tenant who will pay rent on time and take care of your property. While a red flag doesn't automatically rule someone out, it does give reason to pause. The good news is that you can rent to whomever you want, as long as you don't discriminate.

Categories: Landlords

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