You can be efficient in screening potential tenants if you focus on small but high-quality applicants. This is even more essential if you own several rental properties. One of the best ways to do that is to ask pre-screening questions. This will weed out applicants who do not fit your initial criteria and who might not agree with your landlord policies, leaving you with only the ideal tenants for your properties
In this article, we’ll go over pre-screening questions you can ask your tenants and why they are important. We’ll also talk about how to pre-screen your prospects and when to ask these questions.
Income Related Questions
According to a TransUnion survey, payment problems are the top concern of 84% of landlords. And since the ability to pay rent on time is fundamental to your rental business, asking income-related questions in the pre-screening would help eliminate most landlords’ top concerns.
Some of the relevant questions related to income include:
- Where do you work?
- What is your current position in the company you’re working for?
- Do you have any side hustles?
- Do other members of your household earn income?
- How much is your monthly income?
- How much is the combined monthly income of your household?
As a general rule, your prospect’s income should be at least 3 times the cost of rent to be considered financially healthy. This is based on the recommended 30% rent-to-income ratio that is widely used in the industry.
Keep in mind that you still need to verify the information you get during the tenant screening process.
Rental History Related Questions
Apart from payment problems, 56% of landlords also consider prior eviction history as one of their major concerns when selecting tenants, and rightly so. A data analysis conducted in 2016 reveals that prior evictions and rental-related collection records are highly predictive of future evictions.
Furthermore, the true cost of eviction can range from $3,500 to $10,000 between legal fees and court costs to property damages and lost rent. Hence, a tenant’s rental history is a crucial part of your pre-screening questions.
Some relevant questions about rental history include:
- Where are you currently living?
- How long have you been living at that property?
- Why are you leaving the current rental property you’re living in?
- Have you ever been evicted? If so, why?
- Have you ever been delayed in paying rent? If so, how soon were you able to resolve it?
- What kind of notice have you received from your current or former landlord, if any?
- What types of complaints have you received from your neighbors, if any?
- How do you think your landlord will reference you?
On average, renters stay in the same property for 27.5 months. If you find that your prospect is frequently moving from one place to another and your goal is to land a long-term renter, it might be best to look for another prospect.
Moreover, if your prospect has a history of recurring complaints or eviction, this could be a sign that you have to proceed with caution in screening this tenant.
It’s a must to ask for their current or former landlord’s contact information to verify the information they provided you. If they are unable to give you this information, it’s advisable to drop these prospects.
Criminal Background Related Questions
Before renting your property, it’s important to ensure the safety of the other members of the community. And while arrests and minor misdemeanors shouldn’t be a problem, it’s important to spot any pattern of violence from any member of the household.
Moreover, asking them about their criminal history during the pre-screening also gives them a chance to explain the situation.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- Have you ever been convicted of any crimes? If so, what were they?
- If you’ve been convicted of a crime, can you tell us why the crime was committed?
- Will all members of the household pass a criminal background check?
Some cities and states limit the landlord’s ability to run a criminal background check on applicants making these pre-screening questions much more important.
Make sure you check the HUD guidance memo on the use of arrests and conviction records before denying an applicant.
If you prohibit pets on your property, asking them if they own a pet during the pre-screening will help save both your and your prospect’s time. Likewise, if you allow pets but have pet restrictions, now is the best time to ask pet-related questions to help identify if their pet fits your initial criteria.
Here are some relevant pet-related questions:
- What type of pet do you currently own? (include the breed)
- How many pets do you plan to bring with you?
- How long have you had your pet?
- How is your pet’s basic obedience?
- What vaccinations does your pet have?
- Have your pets ever been hostile towards humans or other pets? If so, what happened?
- When was the last time you had noise complaints because of your pet?
- Will you agree to pay the pet deposit?
Although these questions do not replace the need for a proper pet-screening process, they will help you narrow down the list of pet-owning prospects who want to rent your property.
If they have had instances of noise complaints, property damage, or pet hostility, then it might be better to look for another renter.
Other Occupant-Related Questions
When renting your property, you also have to do a background check on all occupants that will be living in your property. In addition, you may have set a limit on the number of people who can occupy your rental.
Here are some occupant-related questions you can ask your prospect:
- How many individuals will be moving in with you?
- How many parking spaces will you need to occupy?
- How many frequent guests do you expect during your tenancy?
- How long do your guests usually stay?
The Federal Occupancy Standards require that you allow at least two occupants per bedroom. Keep in mind that state and local occupancy standards may set a higher requirement for the number of people occupying one room, so be sure to check them before setting a limit.
If the number of occupants exceeds your limits, or the household takes up more parking space than your property can accommodate, it might not be a good fit.
Likewise, you also have to ask about frequent guests or long-term visitors. Most landlords consider guests visiting for more than 10-14 days in any six-month period or 7 consecutive nights a tenant.
Another important area to look at is the tenant’s behavior. Some habits, like smoking and being overly decorative, may damage your property.
- How many members of your household smoke?
- What lease agreements or house rules have you broken in your current or previous home if any?
- How are you with maintaining cleanliness around your home?
- Are you planning to drill holes in the wall or will you mount anything for decorative purposes?
Tailor your questions based on your initial criteria.
Aside from questions related to the ones we’ve discussed, you also have to ask logistical and process-related questions.
- What date are you planning to move in?
- How long are you planning to rent this property?
- Will you be okay with paying X amount as a security deposit?
- Will you be able to follow the house rules I provided?
- Will you be okay with signing a long-term lease agreement?
- Do you have any questions regarding the terms?
Knowing these things helps you prepare your property and necessary paperwork ahead of time before your renters move in. Also, this helps confirm that your tenants are okay with the fees and rules you disclosed.
What Not to Ask Your Prospects
Before you come up with your list of questions to ask during the pre-screening, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the Federal Fair Housing Laws. You cannot deny housing to applicants based on their race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.
For that reason, you shouldn’t ask questions related to those nor use them as your criteria for selecting tenants. Some examples are:
- What is your religion?
- What is your sexual orientation?
- Where are you originally from?
- Do you have a husband?
- Are you disabled?
- How many children do you have?
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you have any condition that prevents you from doing chores?
How to Pre-Screen Tenants
Step1: Come Up With an Initial Criteria
Before you formulate your pre-screening questions, you must first come up with criteria on what type of tenant is ideal for you.
Will you allow pets? Is there a size limit on pets that you’ll allow? Will you allow smoking in designated areas? How many people can occupy your property at the same time? How much is the minimum income of renters you’ll accept? Be clear with your initial criteria so you can formulate the right pre-screening questions for your prospective renters.
Step 2: List Your Criteria in the Listing
When you list your property for rent, include details about your initial criteria so your prospects can screen themselves before contacting you. This significantly decreases the amount of time you have to spend pre-screening and screening tenants.
Include details about income, credit history, pets, and behavior. Also, list down all the fees including the security deposit, pet deposit, and processing fee. By being transparent in your listing, you’re narrowing your list to quality tenants who have a higher probability of passing the screening process.
Step 3: Ask Your Pre-Screening Questions
When a prospect contacts you and shows interest in your property, they’ve probably read your initial criteria from your listing and saw that they fit your criteria. That means, they can be considered high-quality leads.
However, that doesn’t mean you should skip asking your pre-screening questions. During the initial communication, ask the questions above that are relevant to your criteria. It is best to list out all your questions before hopping on a phone call to make sure you won’t miss anything. You can also send these pre-screening questions in a form that your prospect can answer. Or if they schedule a showing, you can ask them these questions at that time.
These questions help you identify those who won’t pass your tenant screening process saving you the hassle of screening several applicants. List down questions that apply to your criteria and make sure you do not ask questions that go against the Fair Housing Act.
Additionally, by being transparent with your criteria in the listing, you can significantly cut down the number of applicants you have to screen.