In order to properly qualify a rental applicant, a landlord needs to have the right information. That means asking the right questions.
Here’s what every landlord needs to know about a rental applicant:
1. When are you planning to move? Don’t waste your time showing the property to an applicant who will not be available at the beginning of the vacancy. One exception: the unit came available unexpectedly, and the rental applicant needs time to provide notice to the current landlord. The tenant who expects a landlord to hold a vacancy open for days or weeks without compensation is not being respectful of the relationship, and that could be a problem in the future.
2. Have you given notice to the current landlord? It is important to note the response that this question solicits. A tenant who asks that the current landlord not be contacted may have something to hide.
3. Why are you moving? This question can reveal a tenant with a bad rental history. Be wary of a tenant who uses this question to bad-mouth the current or previous landlords. If that happens, be sure to hear the landlord’s side of the story before making any decisions.
4. Is your income sufficient for the rent? Red flags to watch for here include an applicant who asks to reduce the rent before even seeing the property, or inflates their income in order to get a showing, and then asks for a rent concession.
5. How can I verify your income? A tenant’s source of income generally is not important, so long as it is legal. What is important is the applicant’s ability to prove it. The landlord must be certain that the person is not simply making it up. By asking this question, a landlord can discourage a scammer who can’t come up with credible documentation.
6. How many other adults will be occupying the unit? At this time, the landlord should explain that all adults must undergo a tenant background check and sign the lease agreement before moving in. This prevents a bad tenant from gaining access to a property by hiding behind someone with a better rental history.
7. Can you comply with the rules? Of course, the landlord first will need to spell out the house rules, like parking restrictions, non-smoking and pet policies, and maintenance requirements before the tenant can answer. It is crucial to discuss those rules during tenant screening, long before the tenant sees these rules in the tenancy agreement.
Landlord Tip: Don’t create any house rules such as maintenance requirements which require special skills or a high degree of physical strength so that some applicants would be disqualified.
8. Have you been evicted? Once the landlord has explained that answers on the rental application must be truthful in order to avoid a claim of fraud, it is possible that the tenant will answer this question honestly. If the applicant admits to a prior eviction, ask about the circumstances, including how long ago, whether there were multiple evictions, and what the applicant has done to rehabilitate. The fact that the applicant is forthcoming is a good sign. Speak with the previous landlord to get both sides of the story.
9. Will you agree to undergo a tenant background check? Explain the scope of the tenant screening policy. For instance, the landlord will verify income, speak with the references, and then run a tenant credit check. The applicant undoubtedly will answer yes, but this is more about warning applicants that the information they provide will be scrutinized. Bad tenants may be discouraged from pursuing the application, while the better tenants will be forthcoming about any problems that might come out.
Tenant screening is all about due diligence — flagging potential issues that can be discussed further with the applicant. Not all applicants will have a perfect record, but many still are good tenants. An applicant who flags an issue and shows a willingness to accommodate the landlord could be a great tenant.
10. Can you provide references? Review the scope of the questions that might be asked of the previous landlord, and then watch for any hesitation — or excuses — about previous landlords. That’s often a sign of a bad rental history.
Be prepared with a list of approved questions before speaking to applicants. Avoid going off script. Casual conversation with a rental applicant can lead to a claim of discrimination, so avoid probing questions like “Are you married?” or “Where are you from?” that solicit irrelevant information.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.