landlord screening tenant

November 8th, 2018

7 questions to ask a prospective tenant

A landlord’s job isn’t just collecting rent, they have to do a bit of work if they decide to manage the property on their own.

One of those jobs is filling vacant units with new tenants. One of the first rules of thumb is to properly screen your tenants, because if you don’t, you could be letting a nightmare into your property who has horrible tendencies and a knack for house parties.

How can you make sure you’re renting to a good tenant? There is a screening process every landlord should establish when they’re trying to find ‘the one’.

Feel free to ask the following questions during the initial phone interview, the open house or unit showing, or directly on the rental application form. The earlier you ask these questions, however, the faster you can disqualify or prequalify applicants.

Why are you moving?

A prospective tenant’s answer to this question will give you a feel for where they are in their life.

Are they moving out from their parents’ for the first time? Do they need to be closer to school or work? Have they filed for divorce? Do they need more (or less) space?

Some red flags here would be if they’re moving because of an eviction or if they don’t get along with neighbours.

When is your move in date?

Knowing the answer to this question, “When are you looking to move?”, can quickly disqualify renters if the date is too soon or too late.

Generally, if a prospective tenant is moving out of a previous rental, they have given their landlord 60 days’ notice, or 30 days’ in some cases. If that prospective tenant is at the beginning of their 60 day search, and you need to fill something within 30, the tenancy might not work.

What is your monthly income and expenses?

This question helps you understand if the renter can afford the price of the unit, on top of any bills, loans or car payments that recur on their end.

This would be an opportunity to get consent for a credit check, find out about their work situation, and see if they're hesitating with any answers.

Can you pay first and last month’s rent on the move-in date?

Another way to take a look inside the financial wellbeing of any prospective tenant is to see if they have enough money saved to pay the first month’s rent and the security deposit (last month's rent) at the same time.

If a renter is asking to pay the last month’s deposit in installments, you might assume they’ll pay other things in installments too. You should never enter into a rental agreement being owed money.

Only accept financially responsible tenants who can pay the full cost to rent before they move in.

How many people will be living in the unit?

The fewer people in an apartment, the less property damage (wear and tear) is likely to accrue. Generally, two adults per bedroom is acceptable.

According to National Occupancy Standards, "These standards require one bedroom for each person in the household, unless they are an adult couple, two children of the same sex under 18 years old, or two opposite-sex children under 5 years old – these people, and only these people, can share a room" (Global News).

Overcrowding is a fire, safety and health risk.

Do you have any pets?

Though you can’t stop a tenant from bringing in an animal once they start living in the unit, you can disqualify pet owners if you don’t want a potentially destructive animal on the premises.

Big dogs or multiple cats can do some property damage to furnishings, and it’s up to you to discuss cleaning fees for any potential damage. Asking former landlords about an animal (if you’re seriously considering a pet-owning applicant) could help you understand how responsible the pet owner is.

Can you fill out an application form and provide employment and landlord references?

The application is where you verify details given to you by prospective tenants. See where they’ve lived previously and for how long, where they work, who their supervisor is, and get previous landlord references for screening.

Do your due diligence

If the applicant tries to make excuses about any of these questions or provisions, you may want to consider someone else.

A strong candidate will have most of this information prepared to hand over to you if they’re invited to view the property, including employment and landlord references, credit scores and the ability to pay first and last month's rent.