What Should You Ask During A Tenant Screening?

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It’s understood by many landlords and property management companies that bad tenants can cause even worse problems.

To help you find the best tenants, IKO Community Management teamed up with The Balance, a financial empowerment website, and Landlordology, an educational website for landlords, property management companies, and renters. Here’s what you can and can’t ask during a tenant screening:

What You Can (And Should) Ask

  • Why are you moving? This is one of the most basic questions that you should ask during a tenant screening. Look for legitimate reasons for the move, like a job change or growing family. If the tenant mentions moving because of a bad relationship with a landlord, neighbor disputes, or eviction, be a little cautious.
  • What’s your anticipated move-in date? Most landlords require a 30-day notice before moving out. If your potential tenant has a rushed move-in date, something could be off. A few exceptions include cases of domestic violence, pay cut, or a sudden job transfer. However, the average tenant usually plans at least a month in advance of their anticipated move-in date.
  • How many people will be living in the space? Whether it’s an apartment, townhome, or condominium, there should be one to two people per bedroom. Any more than that can cause health and safety risks outlined by your municipality and/or local fire department.
  • Can you provide references from your former landlord and/or employer? If a prospective tenant cannot provide positive references from these contacts, they most likely have something to hide. An employer reference can verify stable income while a landlord reference can prevent forgery when discussing their living habits.
  • What is your monthly income? Most landlords believe that tenants should have an income that is 2.5 to 3 times more than the asking rent amount. This ensures that they can afford the space.

    While other monthly expenses can affect this, you can confirm their spending habits through the security deposit, first month’s rent, and credit report. Speaking of which...
  • Do you agree to a background and credit check? If your leasing company requires a background and credit check for occupancy and a prospective tenant doesn’t agree to it, it’s a red flag. This could include anything from bad credit to a criminal history.

    IKO Tip: Ask for a signature on a permission form to perform these checks because verbal consent isn’t legally binding.
  • Do you have pets? It’s best to ask this question right away. If your building has a “no pets” policy, a prospective tenant with a pet will be a dealbreaker. If you’re on the same page, feel free to move onto a showing.
  • Do you have any questions? This gives the prospective tenant a chance to ask their questions about the location, residence, or rules and regulations. This step is important because even if the tenant answered all of your qualifying questions, they should be comfortable living in your space.

What You Can’t Ask

  • Which country were you born in? An applicant could perceive this question as discriminatory, and it’s against the Fair Housing Act
  • Do you have a service animal? This question could be perceived as discriminatory against the disabled. However, if you have a “no pet” policy, and this situation comes up, the applicant must show the animal’s certification status.
  • How many children do you have? An applicant could interpret this question as discriminatory against familial status. However, you can ask how many occupants the tenant plans to house.
  • What's your religious status? Questions like these could be perceived as religious discrimination. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your county, state, and the federal fair housing laws.

An ideal tenant has a steady work history, a stable salary as outlined above, a solid credit score, and references that you can contact. During the interview, listen for a good reason as to why they’re moving, how many occupants they’ll be housing, and more.

If you’d rather learn about homeowners associations, check out Guide To HOA Rules by clicking below:

Guide to HOA Rules