Tips for Prequalifying and Prescreening Tenants

by Chris on January 15, 2011

Prequalifying and prescreening tenants can help landlords hold on to their profits. 

Prequalifying applicants over the phone weeds out the ones who are not likely to rent the property.  Prescreening before a tour can protect a landlord’s safety.  And working with prequalified, prescreened tenants increases the chances for a successful  tenancy.

Prequalifying Applicants Over the Phone

Most applicants contact a landlord by phone in response to a rental ad or seeing a ‘For Rent’ sign. 

The best way to start the conversation is to ask how this applicant heard about the rental.  If the applicant learned about the rental from a sign out front, then the landlord knows this person is familiar with where the property is located and the neighborhood. This is both good, and bad. 

On the one hand, someone familiar with the neighborhood is usually the most qualified because they are already committed to the curb appeal and the location. On the other hand, there is the remote possibility that the person was simply casing the neighborhood for crime and came upon the sign.

If the applicant can’t remember where they saw the rental ad, or which property they are calling about, that means they are checking out a number of rentals, and they are not committed to any one property. 

Next, find out what the applicant is looking for in a rental property.  This allows the landlord the opportunity to reconfirm the rent, the number of bedrooms, or questions about the layout of the property and eliminate any applicants who are not a match.  A landlord can also eliminate unqualified applicants with these additional questions:

Go over the policy on security deposits and advance payments, like first month’s rent, and ask the applicant if they have the funds needed to pay up front.

Ask how many occupants will move in and determine if the number is appropriate for the rental property.

Find out when the applicant needs to move in.

How long do they need a rental property?

Can they comply with the landlord’s pet policy or non-smoking policy?

At this point, the landlord should ask the applicant if they need time to think it over before scheduling a tour. If the applicant indicates they need time to make the decision, or to talk to a spouse or roommates, they are signaling a lack of commitment.  Tell them to call back later if they are interested.  Hard-selling an applicant to take the tour at this point will likely be a waste of time, and an unnecessary risk to any existing tenants and the landlord.

Prescreen Before the Tour

Once an applicant is qualified, landlords should view the tour as an invitation into a secured area, where not just anyone gets in.  Landlords should demand a face-to-face meeting in a safe location, like an office or area with people around, before they agree to schedule a tour of a rental property.  The applicant is a complete stranger, and the landlord must take steps to confirm the person’s identity and motives.

While some landlords demand that the applicant complete a rental application at this point, it is often difficult to convince an applicant to take the time to complete such a long document and agree to a tenant background check before they have seen the property. Many property managers use an alternative tenant contact form, which asks for name, current address, phone, email, a piece of identification, records information about the applicant’s car, and may ask for confirmation of what the tenant is seeking as far as size of unit, rent and occupancy. 

The point of the information sheet is to find out who the tenant is, whether it tracks what the applicant said on the phone, and to test the applicant’s demeanor and level of interest. 

To investigate the applicant’s demeanor, ask a few questions.  For instance, find out how they are familiar with the neighborhood, and ask why are they interested in this rental property.  The best tenants are those who have something drawing them to the neighborhood – work or school, for example. If the person seems nervous or evasive — they avert their eyes, are overly fidgety, or keep looking around outside, the landlord may want to reconsider bringing them to the property, or at least delay the tour until the landlord is more comfortable with this applicant.

Find out why the applicant wants to move, and whether he or she has given notice to the current landlord.  While a “no” to this question doesn’t necessarily spell trouble, it could signal that there is a dispute brewing with the existing landlord, and the tenant is hoping to secure a new lease before the landlord gives a bad reference, files for eviction, or reports the tenant to the credit bureaus. 

Find out if they have any questions to show some level of curiosity and interest in the property.

Be wary of tenants who aren’t sure what they are looking for, are not familiar with the neighborhood, or have a number of decision-makers who each have to agree. If so, postpone the tour until all decision-makers are available or the applicant is more committed.

As a safety precaution, a landlord should leave a copy of the applicant’s information in the office, email it to a computer, or to another secure place rather than simply carrying the file with them to the tour.  

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).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in 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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

HLL January 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

Good advice, but, personally, I prefer to screen my tenants by e-mail. Nowadays anyway, people find apartments mostly online. While you can put in your phone number, I find it easier to have people e-mail me.

When I receive an e-mail from a prospective tenant about my ad, I respond with template pre-screening questions such as the ones mentioned above. Only when an answer is received do I agree to set-up a viewing time. If there are any answers I don’t like, I just ignore the e-mail and move on to the next one.

One thing I make sure to do is specify that tenants are to call me one hour before the meeting time to confirm. If they don’t call, I don’t show up and I make that clear to each and every one of them.

I bring copies of the application to each visit and hand them out to those interested. I make certain to explain that I will only accept applications with first month’s rent (in money order form) and insist on copies of their SIN card and drivers license for my files (I have a portable printer which I take to these appointments).

Trust me when I say that this approach has saved me a lot of problems,


MARI JARVIS January 25, 2011 at 7:33 am

Great suggestions. I use Craig’s List to advertise and have not had any problems or security (dangerous) situations arise, but I know they are out there.

A template of questions such as those listed in the original article is an excellent idea – if they do not respond, their interest level is not high. I ask for an application fee of $50.

Do you get compliance with your 1st month’s rent requirement to accompany the application? Especially if it needs to be a money order – that’s asking a stranger to put a lot of trust in you – their prospective future landlord but also a stranger to them.

This is tremendous feedback and a great service – Thanks TVS.


Cloe August 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

In regards to Mari’s comment above, it is illegal to charge an application fee at least in British Columbia.

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