Taking on a new tenant can be a testing time. You want to ensure you rent to the best possible candidate, but you’re also mindful of the age-old adage ‘time is money’, which can make rushing things through very tempting for landlords.
While there are certainly parts of the lettings process you should expedite where possible, choosing your next tenant isn’t one of them. There’s far too much at stake. Taking the time to ask the following 21 questions to all tenancy applicants will allow you to compare and contrast each of them, and cut a lot of the guesswork out of the process.
What Screening Questions Should Landlords Ask Tenants?
If you want to put the best possible tenant in your property - and, who doesn’t want that? - there are a few things you need to find out about them before you sign your part of the tenancy agreement. The following questions will reveal all.
Yes, some questions are uncomfortable to ask, but it’s far better to bite the bullet now than suffer major problems further down the line.
Let’s get to it!
When are you looking to move in?
A straightforward enough question to start with, and the answer will let you know if your dates align. If they don’t, you may want to end the conversation here and save each other the time of going through the rest of the questions on this list.
Are you currently renting?
This is another nice, easy one to keep things rolling along. The answer your prospective tenant gives will allow you to ascertain just how au fait they are with the renting process and provide you with a nice lead into the next question…
If yes, will your current landlord provide a good reference?
Naturally, you’ll be asking for references anyway, but putting this across to your applicant in this way will give them an opportunity to expand on how they feel their relationship has been with their current landlord. Both positives and negatives can be telling here, so accept all answers with an open mind.
What about former landlords and employers?
The reason for asking this follow-up question is similar to the above, but with the obvious advantage of broadening things out a little. Keep in mind, however, that everyone can change their ways, so don’t punish or persecute unnecessarily. A 40-something tenant is unlikely to cause the same problems they may have done in their twenties, for example.
Does your current landlord know you’re on the move?
This is a clever, seemingly innocuous question. The answer can give you further insight into the tenant’s relationship with their current landlord and how they view landlord / tenant relations generally.
If they answer ‘No’, this may mean they have little-to-no regard for the landlord’s position, which is something you’ll naturally want to avoid. Of course, this may not be the case, but you should ask a follow-up ‘Why not?’ in order to dig a little deeper.
Have you ever been evicted before?
Whether or not the tenant has been previously evicted will show up in the final round of screening, but asking early serves a dual purpose.
Firstly, it gives the tenant a chance to explain the situation and put their case forward. Second, it allows you to narrow the field quickly and save time, as you’ll be able to disregard tenants who cannot justify why they have previously been through an eviction with another landlord.
Broken a rental agreement?
Breaking a rental agreement is a lot different to being evicted but, as a landlord, you’ll still want to know about it.
There are many legitimate reasons why a tenant might break their agreement, so don’t treat each ‘Yes’ as an automatic red flag. Ask why it happened and then cross-check their answer when approaching their old landlord for a reference.
Do you have a criminal record? If yes, what for and when?
Again, this will come to light at a later date in background checks should you choose to proceed, but why wait? Getting things like this out of the way early will save wasting both your time.
As with broken rental agreements, having a criminal record should not automatically exclude a tenant from your shortlist. Take into consideration what the crime was, when it was committed, and whether or not it was a one-off incident.
Remember, too, that convictions are all that matter here, not arrests. Being arrested is not the same as being found guilty, after all.
Why are you moving?
Needless to say, you’re looking for a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. Things such as being closer to work or needing a garden for the kids are perfectly acceptable reasons, whereas being served a Section 21 or Section 8 notice, or both, are a different kettle of fish entirely.
Regardless of the answer, it’s always worth verifying what they say when you contact their current landlord. Yes, it would be a better world if we could all take each other’s word as gospel, but in reality it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How long were you in your last property?
Easy one. This will give you an idea of whether or not they are likely to become long-term tenants, but isn’t an absolute stamp. Useful to know, but only as part of the bigger picture.
How long are you looking to rent my property for?
A good follow-up question to the above. With any luck, they’ll come straight back at you with, ‘How long will you let us stay?’
How many tenants will move in?
This is important for so many reasons, not least of which is the legal aspect of letting properties to multiple people. Ask ages and their relationship to the applicant as well.
Do any of the prospective tenants smoke?
This is a question that landlords deem important, yet tenants often don’t understand why. As such, you’ll frequently find tenants being economical with the truth here, but by asking the question you’ll at least open the door to reiterating your stance on smoking within the property.
Do you, or anyone else moving in, have pets?
More and more landlords are coming round to the idea of letting tenants keep pets in their properties, so it will be more important to some than others. However, you’ll still want to know what you’re letting yourself in for before signing on the dotted line. A python is a lot different to a poodle, after all!
Check out our guide to Renting With Pets for a deeper dive into the subject.
Are you aware of your responsibilities with regard to the tenancy agreement?
All good applicants will know the importance of behaving in a tenant-like manner, and asking this question will give you an idea of how likely they are to stick to the rules you lay out in your agreement. Of course, this is another area to double-check when obtaining references, but you’ll get a decent handle on their outlook when they submit their answer.
There are, however, times when you may receive a blank stare for legitimate reasons, namely from those renting for the first time. Obviously, this is not a reason to pass on the applicant. Instead, treat it as an opportunity to go over what those responsibilities are and how important they are to adhere to.
What do you do for a living?
Although this seems like an irrelevant question, it can give you a peek inside the life of your applicant and how they’ll stack up in terms of fitting in with your business and property.
Someone who works from home (an increasingly popular answer) might, for example, cause a little more wear and tear on the property than someone who is out at work all day. On the flipside, you may see this as a positive, as there will be someone watching over the property pretty much 24/7.
No right or wrong answers here, just another way to build a picture of who you’ll be renting to.
Do you enjoy what you do?
This follow-up is largely to find out about how stable they are in terms of income. Someone who is perfectly happy doing what they do is far less likely to leave than someone who hates the site of their workplace and everyone in it. Nothing concrete, as anything can (and does) happen, but it’s another piece of the puzzle to bear in mind.
What is your annual income?
Talking about money is never easy, but you’re running a business, so you need to know that your prospective tenant will comfortably be able to meet the rent each and every month. A rough guide as to what the person is earning each year will give you a decent idea whether or not this is the case.
Do you have the required deposit for the rental?
If the tenant dithers over this one, what’s it going to be like when payment day rocks around each month? Will it be like getting blood from a stone each time? If your gut thinks so, it might be time to look elsewhere, as the stress of fighting for your money 12 times a year really isn’t worth the hassle.
Do you have a guarantor?
Not an essential, but nice to have. This is one of those questions that can tip the balance between two otherwise equal applicants.
If one has a rental guarantor and the other doesn’t, which would you choose? Exactly. Even if they have incredibly secure jobs and are the perfect applicant, having the safety net of a rental guarantor behind them can give you a great deal of peace of mind. Well worth asking about.
Do you have any questions for me?
Finally, it’s time to turn the table on yourself and give the applicant an opportunity to ask you a few questions. While this may simply seem like the polite thing to do, you’d be amazed at how often it can turn into a reason to either bend over backwards for a prospective tenant or run for the hills.
Always give them the chance to ask you something. Always.
That’s it! A comprehensive checklist of 21 screening questions landlords should ask prospective tenants before committing to an agreement. Knowing the answers will give you a great insight into each applicant and help you make the right choice for you, your property, and your business.
If you’re based in East London or West Essex and have property or properties to let, we’d be delighted to help in whatever way we can. Petty Son and Prestwich have been serving landlords just like you for decades, and our customer reviews speak for themselves.
So, if you have any questions regarding being a landlord or our property management services, please feel free to pick up the phone. We have a team of dedicated lettings experts ready and waiting to take your call.