Landlord asking questions to prospective tenants

Stop Renting To Bad Tenants

Do you know which questions to ask prospective tenants that will weed out most of the unqualified ones?

Let’s face it,  struggling to get your rent or walking into to a destroyed rental is enough to make you want to sell your property, am I right? Learning these questions to ask prospective tenants and why they’re important will help you decrease stress and increase income.

We all feel the pressure to get our rental property rented as quickly as possible. But, when we don’t have effective procedures in place or ignore the ones we do have, bad things can happen. Take a look at this example by ABC15 News in Arizona.

The key to renting your property to a tenant who will pay on time and take care of your house begins with pre-qualifying them either by phone or email.

Don’t waste your time or their time. Pre-screening prospective tenants will allow you to focus on getting your property rented to the right person sooner. One mistake new landlords make is setting an appointment to show the rental property without asking the right questions first.

Questions to ask prospective tenants

First, let me say that I am not tenant bashing, because I have had a lot of good tenants. It’s my job and your job as rental property owners to find the good tenants. I would be willing to bet that the landlord in this video did not screen these tenants properly. I’m not bashing the landlord either, because I’ve made these mistakes too.

Maybe similar problems happened to you, or you’re being proactive trying to avoid these problems. Either way, asking the following questions is the starting point to avoiding bad tenants. It is important to note, that all of these questions do not violate their rights afforded them in the Fair Housing Act.

Have you seen the property?Landlord asking questions to prospective tenants

Our job as landlords is to match the tenant to the rental property. Finding a tenant that is a good fit for the rental property is only half of the equation. You also have to make sure your rental property is right for them.

I have experienced situations where I’ve turned down a prospective tenant because I believed they would not be happy in the neighborhood. If they’re not happy they won’t stay, which defeats my goal of creating long term tenancy.

So asking them if they’ve seen the property can quickly eliminate them as a potential tenant. If they say they have not seen the property, I ask them to drive by before I will show it to them. If they don’t call you back, you know the house was not a match and you didn’t waste your time.

Do you have any questions about the property?

Asking a potential tenant if they have any questions may expose some vital information that will help you make a decision now. For example, if they ask “do you allow dogs?” and you don’t allow dogs, you will know they are not a match.

This question will also help you evaluate what is important to them, like what size are the rooms or are all bills paid? You never know what valuable information you can gather just by letting them ask questions.

Why are you moving?

What I’m hoping to hear is something like; “We are moving closer to work” or “We are having a baby and need more space”.  These are good reasons to move.

But, what if they start bashing the landlord? Maybe they are complaining for good reason, but I always look at this as a potential red flag. Chances are, you will be the one they are bashing next, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is, they may be unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions.

If they start bashing the landlord, I might ask them how long they stayed at their previous address. If they say they were at their previous address for 3 years then I would say their current landlord is the problem. But if they say something like they lived in their previous rental property for 6 month’s, I begin to get the picture. They are unstable.

When are you looking to move in?

When you ask your prospective tenant when they are looking to move in, you’re simply trying to understand if what they need is compatible with what you need. What you need is to rent your rental property as soon as is feasible, but if they are looking at a month or two down the road, you know they are not your next tenant and the conversation ends here.

Do you have the total move in amount?Tenant with cash in hand

This is one way to find out if they can afford to move into your property. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if it’s okay to split up the deposit and the rent. Or maybe they ask me if I have some work for them to do in lieu of the deposit. If either of these answers are given to this question,  politely end the conversation and move on.

Is your income 3 times the amount of rent?

When you ask about their income, you want to make sure they earn at least 2 1/2 to 3 times the rent amount. It will not be good for you or them if they don’t even have enough money to live on after paying rent.

In my experience, the rent takes a back seat to a lot of other expenses, even a cigarette or beer budget. I’ve listened to why they can’t pay the rent today while they are standing there smoking a cigarette. I know they are addicted but it’s not my responsibility to support their habit. They can’t afford the house.

Therefore, having enough money to live on after they pay rent is another key factor in whether or not they are a good match for you property.

Do you or anyone living with you have any evictions or felonies?

There reason you ask this question is obvious, but I find that they might lie to you so the way you ask it is important. I ask them something like this; “I will be doing a background check, do you or anyone who will be living in the property have any evictions or felonies on their record?”

This let’s them know that it will not do them any good to lie to you, because you will find out. If they do say yes, it would be good for you to know a little about what happened. Maybe they are in their mid 3o’s and the incident happened when they were a teen.  Generally, I will give some consideration depending on the circumstance.

Have you ever been involved in domestic violence?Tenants arguing

Asking about domestic violence is related to the question above, but has a slightly different purpose. The reason I ask this question is to expose whether or not my property is going to have holes in the sheet rock when they move out. And whether or not the fighting couple will be disturbing the peace.

Again, I would word my question similarly to the question above, letting them know that it will do them no good to lie.

Do you have at least 5 years good rental history?

5 years is a good measurement of stability, but I have also felt comfortable with less time depending on the other requirements. But, the basic premise is to see how reliable and stable they are. The lesser the good rental history they have the more risk you take allowing them into your property.

Your requirement may be different depending on your circumstance. Maybe you live near a college and rent primarily to students. In this case, you will need to check the history of the parents. If you depend on the parents history they should also be required to be on the lease to guarantee your rent. Knowing how rowdy some young adults get, you will need to get the parents on the hook for any damages.

Do you have a 600+ credit score?

Okay this is a bonus question and whether or not you ask it depends on your situation.Ask tenant about credit score

A credit score is a great way to understand their attitude about paying their bills, so checking credit is highly recommended.  A credit score of 600 and up is a solid indicator of their stability. If they tell you they have a good credit score, they should have no problem paying an application fee.

So, when I ask them about their credit score, I also mention the fee we charge to run the check. If they are confident, they won’t mind the fee. But, if they doubt themselves you will probably never hear from them again.

I will add a little caveat to the credit score policy. There are some situations where people just don’t have credit because they don’t borrow money, but they are few and far between. Also, some C class properties would be hard to rent if you depend on credit scores. Every market is different and you will have to decide what’s best for your property location.

Putting it all together

As you put all the information together, you will begin to get a picture. This picture is what tells you if you want to proceed or not. Maybe this picture will take 5 or 10 minutes to draw, but it will save you a lot of time, money and headaches if you do it right.

Learning to read the situation may take some practice, but this is your job. By asking the right questions, your tenant will paint you a picture of who they are. The better you are at reading this picture, the less problems you will have choosing the right tenant.

My final thoughts

Using these 9 or 10 questions are a powerful tool to put in your property management arsenal. Used properly, they are extremely effective at stopping bad tenants from accessing your rental property investment.

One little word of advice from one landlord to another (if I may), don’t get in a hurry to rent your house. I’ve accepted the first person who walked in with a hand full of cash and it often didn’t end well. This hand full of cash will not be enough to cover the damages a bad tenant can do in a short period of time.

I hope you have found some value in learning the 9 questions to ask prospective tenants. If you enjoyed this article, or have additional advice for fellow landlords, we are open to discussion here. If  you feel like leaving a comment below, that would be awesome.

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