31 Tenant Screening Questions to Ask New Renters
As a landlord, finding a good tenant can be difficult. Ideally, you’ll have more than one applicant for each vacant property. At this point, screening questions can help you narrow your choices before spending money on a background check and credit report.
These questions should help determine if the prospective tenant can afford the rent and whether they will comply with the lease. You can ask questions about their rental history, employment and income, and whether they have broken a lease or been evicted. However, you must steer clear of any question that could raise an inference that you are discriminating against certain people.
Based in Lithia, Florida, Eaton Realty is a full-service real estate company. We work with investors and landlords to help them find rental properties and to manage their properties. Reach out today to learn more about the services that we offer for landlords, including helping you find the right tenants.
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Top 31 Tenant Screening Questions
When you own an investment property, you want to make sure that you get good tenants: people who can pay the rent, who won’t cause problems or damage your property, and who you can trust. Tenant screening as part of the application process is critical to getting qualified tenants.
As part of the process, there are specific questions that you should be asking prospective tenants. Asking these questions won’t guarantee that you get a good tenant, but it increases the likelihood of renting to someone responsible.
Below, we have gathered a list of 31 screening questions to ask new renters. These questions fall into several broad categories: basic information, financial situation, background and references, rental behavior, and motive for moving. By asking these questions, you can better understand who you are renting to - and whether they’ll be a good fit for your property.
1) Do you currently rent?
This question is mostly asked to get some background information. If this person is currently a renter, you will want to talk to their current landlord to learn more about them (i.e., whether they paid rent on time or had a history of noise disturbances).
2) How long have you lived in your current home?
The ideal tenant for many landlords is someone who not only pays rent and takes care of the property but who stays there long-term. If a prospective renter moves frequently, they may not be the best choice for you if your goal is to have someone in the unit for a year or longer.
3) Why are you moving?
People move for many different reasons, such as getting a new job, needing more space, or a rent increase. This question can help you learn a bit more about a prospective tenant - including whether they are moving because their current landlord is evicting them.
4) Does your current landlord know that you will be moving?
This question can be tricky because some tenants may have a bad situation with their landlords and may not want them to know that they plan to leave. They may also be planning to break their lease. If they have good cause to break their lease, this shouldn’t be an issue - but you should definitely check with their landlord.
5) How many people will be living in the unit?
Cities and towns typically have ordinances on the maximum number of people who can live in a unit. Asking this question can help ensure that you are in compliance with the laws. However, as noted below, do not ask if they have or plan to have children, as this could constitute housing discrimination.
6) Do you have frequent overnight guests?
Many leases contain clauses that limit how many overnight guests can stay in a unit - and how long they can stay. As a landlord, it is a good idea to know who is living in your investment property for liability reasons. You may even ask that they be placed on the lease if they plan to have someone stay there frequently.
7) Do you have pets?
Many rental properties have a no pets policy or breed and/or size restrictions. It is fine to make it clear to prospective tenants that you have these policies - and to ask if they have any pets currently. However, you should not ask if they have a service or emotional support animal, which may cross the line into discrimination based on disability.
8) Do you plan to get a pet?
Sometimes, prospective tenants don’t have any pets when they apply - but they might plan to get one in the future. As long as you steer clear of questions about assistance animals, it’s fine to ask if a renter intends to get a pet - and to make your policy on pets clear.
9) Does anyone who will be living in the unit smoke?
Many landlords prefer that their tenants not smoke in their units, as smoking can cause damage, create a hard-to-remove odor, and be a fire hazard. You can ask about smoking and explain your policies on smoking during the screening process.
10) How many parking spaces will you require?
Unless your rental property is in a rural area, chances are good that there is a limited number of parking spaces. Asking this question can reduce the likelihood that you’ll face problems with parking wars between tenants in the future. It may also reveal that your prospective tenant intends to have someone else stay there frequently if they need three parking spots but state that only two adults will be living in the unit.
11) What is your desired move-in date?
This question can help you decide between several prospective tenants. Most landlords prefer to get someone into the unit sooner rather than later to reduce carrying costs. The answer to this question may also reveal that the person is about to be evicted or is breaking their lease.
12) Are you currently employed?
Let’s face it: anyone who leases from you needs to be able to pay the rent. Of course, a person can pay rent without being employed if they have retirement income, a housing voucher, or another funding source. It’s a good idea to ask this fundamental question to better understand how your tenant plans to pay rent.
13) What type of work do you do?
This question can be worded in a few different ways to determine if the prospective renter has a stable job and the type of hours they work. This second part is more important in multi-family units. If a prospective tenant works a night shift and you have neighboring tenants with small children who make a lot of noise during the day, it may be a recipe for disaster to rent to someone who needs to sleep during the day.
14) What is your monthly income?
Most landlords require a minimum monthly income of 3 times their rent. While you may have a looser or stricter standard, you should have criteria that you apply across the board. Asking this question first can help to weed out tenants who simply can’t afford to rent from you.
15) Can you explain any employment gaps?
This question concerns job stability and a tenant’s ability to pay rent consistently over their lease term. With the understanding that sometimes a person loses their job due to no fault of their own, you should think carefully about renting to someone with a patchy employment history or who seems to be out of work more often than not.
16) Have you ever been evicted?
This simple question gets to the heart of a fundamental issue: will this tenant be a good renter? If they have been evicted for nonpayment of rent, violating lease terms, or another problem, you want to know beforehand.
17) Have you ever broken a lease?
There are many good reasons a person might break their lease, such as moving for their job. However, it’s still helpful information because you don’t necessarily want to rent to a tenant who may not have any qualms about breaking a lease.
18) Have you ever been late with paying rent?
This is a straightforward question that can be answered with a yes or no. Of course, things happen and there may be a good reason why a tenant has been late with rent. The most important thing here is that the prospective renter is honest. If you find out during a follow-up reference or background check that they lied, it may be a red flag.
19) Can I contact your current landlord?
If the prospective renter is currently renting, you should talk to their landlord to get a better sense of how they are as a tenant. If they refuse to give you the landlord’s name or state that you can’t talk to them, you may want to reconsider renting to them - unless there is a good reason (like fear of retaliation) for doing so.
20) Can you provide references from current or former landlords?
This question is simple. If your prospective tenant is unwilling to give you the names of former landlords, it may be because they were less-than-ideal renters.
21) Will you agree to a background check?
Background checks are a standard part of a rental application. If a tenant is uncomfortable with you doing a background check, it should be a red flag.
22) Are there any issues I should know about before running a background check?
Life can be complicated, and something might pop up on a background check that your tenant can explain. Asking this question can help you determine if your tenant is truthful (i.e., did they lie and say they have never been convicted of a crime when they have a record?). It may also allow you to avoid doing a background check if they tell you about a conviction that would disqualify them from renting from you (such as something that landed them on the sex offender registry).
23) Can I run a credit check?
As with a background check, a credit report is a standard part of most rental applications. If a tenant is uncomfortable with you running a report, you may be wary of renting to them.
24) Are there any issues I should know about before I run a credit check?
This question is mostly designed to weed out tenants who lie to you about facts that you can easily verify. In addition, if the prospective renter tells you something that would be disqualifying (such as having numerous lawsuits against them for nonpayment of rent), you won’t have to waste your time or money doing a credit report.
25) Have you filed for bankruptcy recently?
Bankruptcies can be verified through a credit check, as they stay on your credit history for 7 to 10 years. As a landlord, you are primarily asking this question to see if the tenant is honest. There are many reasons a person may file for bankruptcy that does not indicate financial irresponsibility, such as medical debt. It may still be a factor in your ultimate decision, particularly if they lied about bankruptcy.
26) Are you willing to sign a 1-year lease?
Most landlords want tenants who will be around for the long term. Asking your tenants about their preferred lease term can give you an indication of whether they fit the bill.
27) Will you be able to pay the first month’s rent plus the security deposit when you sign the lease?
Requiring the first month’s rent plus a security deposit is standard for residential leases. If a tenant cannot pay this amount, it may be a sign that they aren’t financially stable. Of course, there could be a good reason why they can’t put together the amount - for instance, they may be going through a divorce. These are factors that should be considered when deciding on rental applications.
28) Can you pay the application fee to cover the background and credit check?
Most landlords charge an application fee to cover the background check and credit report cost. If they cannot cover the fee (typically minimal), it may be a sign that they won’t be able to pay the rent.
29) Can you pay rent in a specific way (online, via check, etc.)?
Many landlords have a preferred way for tenants to pay the rent. If you have a preference, ask prospective tenants upfront if they’re OK with that method.
30) Have you been convicted of a crime that may affect your ability to be a safe tenant?
People make mistakes, and that shouldn’t necessarily disqualify them from renting from you. That being said, certain criminal convictions may indicate that a prospective tenant would threaten your property or the community - such as manufacturing or distribution of drugs, arson, or a sexual assault offense. Make sure you ask all tenants this question if you plan to ask it; otherwise, it could be viewed as discriminatory if you only ask some tenants this question. Similarly, you should be aware that federal law prohibits discrimination against people who previously used drugs but are currently in treatment or recovery.
31) Do you have any questions for me?
Most of the questions you have asked thus far are about finding tenants that are a good match for you on paper. This open-ended question is a bit different, and you may learn a lot about a tenant based on how they answer it.
For example, suppose a prospective tenant asks a lot of questions about when quiet hours are or whether any of the other tenants have kids. In that case, it may be a warning sign that they’ll be problem tenants who regularly complain about others making even reasonable levels of noise. Listen carefully and think about how their questions may indicate what kind of tenant they will be.
Tenant Screening Questions to Avoid
There are certain questions that you should never ask prospective tenants. These types of questions aren’t just bad form - they may be illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act or Florida’s Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin. Florida’s law similarly prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status, or religion.
Questions that are designed to find out information about a person’s status in one or more of these categories should never be asked. For example, you should not ask prospective tenants:
These questions - and others - could lead to lawsuits and steep penalties from state or federal government agencies. Essentially, asking questions about someone’s membership in a protected class may raise the implication that you are discriminating against a class of people. Landlords should never ask screening questions related to a person’s race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, familial status, or national origin.
Streamline Tenant Screening with Eaton Realty
Finding the right tenant can be an arduous process. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple applicants for a rental property, using screening questions can help you find qualified candidates. A skilled property manager can make the process even easier, helping you find great tenants for your investment properties.
Eaton Realty offers property management services throughout Hillsborough County, Florida. We help landlords with every aspect of running their rental properties, from handling maintenance requests to screening tenants. If you’d like to learn more, fill out our online contact form or give us a call at 813-672-8022 to talk to a team member.