If you’re renting out your own property – that is, if you’re screening tenants on your own, without help from a property manager in Boston – you need to know what to ask tenants to make sure they’re a good fit for your space. Check out these 17 tenant screening questions every property owner should ask before you sign the dotted line.
17 Tenant Screening Questions Every Landlord Should Ask
Tenant screening questions can be tricky. You have to be careful that you don’t ask anything that violates fair housing laws, offends your potential tenants or costs you a deal – so where do you start? This list of 17 safe questions can help you get your feet wet. (And if the thought of screening your own tenants makes you cringe, don’t worry – we can help.)
1. What date will you want to move in?
This should be one of your first questions – if the prospective tenant’s move-in date doesn’t match what you’re looking for, you may want to keep looking.
2. Do you currently rent? Where?
You want to know if your prospective tenant is currently renting so you know where they’re coming from.
3. How long have you been renting your current home?
You can learn a lot about how willing someone is to stay in your home by asking how long they’ve been in their current home. Preferably, you’ll choose a tenant who’s likely to stay for more than one one-year term. If they’ve only been there a few months and are breaking a lease agreement, you need to know why.
4. Why are you looking for a new rental?
Sometimes people want to be closer to work or school, or they may live too far from family. Maybe they’ve just relocated to the area, or perhaps they want to rent a place that’s close to their former home. However, sometimes people are breaking leases with other property owners, or they’re moving because they’re being thrown out – and those are things you need to know before you commit.
5. How many people will be living with you?
You need to know that there’s enough space in your property for your prospective tenants and if they’re likely to feel that it’s too small (or too big) after moving in.
6. How many smokers will live here?
Most landlords don’t allow smoking in their properties – but even if you do, you want to know how many smokers will be living in the home.
7. How many pets do you have?
You most likely have a pet policy that dictates the number of pets – or maybe even the types of pets – you allow in your property. You should ask prospective tenants how many pets they have and make them aware of your policy on adopting new ones (as well as how you handle pet deposits).
8. Do you often have overnight guests?
Asking a tenant if they have frequent guests – whether they stay overnight from time to time or come to visit for weeks on end – is a good way to tell how many people will really be in and out of your property. If you have a multifamily property, the answer to this question can help you make a decision based on how this prospective tenant will affect your existing tenants’ enjoyment of their homes.
9. Have you ever broken a rental agreement?
In many cases, people have valid reasons for breaking rental agreements – perhaps a landlord in the past refused to repair hazards or something was wrong with the house. However, sometimes people break rental agreements because they can, and that’s something you need to know before you commit to a prospective tenant.
10. Have you ever been evicted?
A tenant’s eviction history will likely come up in his or her background screening, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before you invest time and money into a background check.
11. Does your current landlord know you’re looking for a new place?
Ideally, your prospective tenant will have told his or her current landlord that they’re looking for a new place. If the prospective tenant’s move-in date is within 30 days and his or her current landlord doesn’t know they’re looking, that may be a red flag – most places require 30 days’ notice.
12. Can I contact your current landlord for a reference?
You’ll want to get the landlord’s name, number and email address so you can call while you’re doing your due diligence.
13. What kind of work do you do, and how long have you been with your current company?
It’s nice to get to know your tenants and their habits. Longevity at a job can signify stability, which is something that all landlords want from their tenants.
14. Can you give me a rough estimate of your income?
Ideally, your prospective tenant will make at least three times what you’re asking for rent.
15. What would you do if you had to pay your rent late?
This question will surprise most tenants, but you need to know: Will they just wait until they can pay, make a partial payment, call you and explain the situation to see what you advise, or something else?
16. Have you recently filed for bankruptcy?
Although a bankruptcy may not be disqualifying, it’s a look at a prospective tenant’s financial picture.
17. Are there any issues I should be aware of before I do a background screening?
Many prospective tenants will let you know if you’re going to find something on a background check. If they don’t, and something turns up, you may have to think hard about whether the person will make a good tenant.
What Tenant Screening Questions You CANNOT Ask
You have to be very careful when you’re screening prospective tenants – asking the wrong things, even if you’re just talking casually, can land you in legal hot water. (That’s one of the reasons many people choose to hire a property manager.)
You cannot, under any circumstances, ask questions that relate to a person’s:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Physical or mental disability
Check out these seemingly innocent questions that could end up coming up in a court case:
- “I love your accent! Where are you from originally?”
- “Were you born here, or did you immigrate here?”
- “Is English your second language?”
- “Are you a Christian/Muslim/Buddhist (or any other religion)?”
- “Are you looking at any nearby churches?”
- “What church do you attend?”
- “Are you sure a woman like you can handle cutting the grass?”
- “Are you sure a man like you isn’t going to get oil on the floor of the garage?”
- “Do you have children?”
- “Are you planning on growing your family?”
- “Do you need information on schools for your kids?”
- “Are you married/divorced?”
- “Are you gay?”
- “How old are you?”
- “Are you disabled?”
- “Do you need special parking for a disability?”
- “Do you have a service animal?”
Steer clear of any discussion that involves any of the protected categories listed above and you should be fine. Naturally, if your tenant brings them up, you can absolutely change the subject!
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Call us at 617-262-3075 or fill out the form below now to find out how we can take all the stress out of renting out a property in Boston. We’ll take it from here!