It can take tremendous time and effort to sort through rental applications and screen potential tenants. How do you choose the best applicant?
The answer is you assemble a list of critical questions to ask potential tenants to determine their suitability. This process is called pre-screening, and it is the first step in getting to know if a tenant would be a good fit for your rental.
Pre-screening tenants will help you quickly assess which ones meet your minimum requirements for further screening. By asking the right questions, you can also weed out applicants who would otherwise cause you nothing but trouble and grief if you were to invite them to move in.
Not sure what to ask an applicant during your pre-screening interview? We’ve compiled a list of the top questions for potential tenants to get you started.
Top questions to ask potential tenants
While email and text messaging are good ways to get answers, it’s more effective and reliable to have a conversation over the phone. You can gain valuable insight into a tenant’s character from their tone of voice and have the chance to ask relevant follow-up questions as needed.
1. Can you tell me about yourself?
Asking this open-ended question right off the bat is an excellent way to begin a tenant pre-screening interview. You’ll become familiar with a tenant’s lifestyle, habits, goals, hobbies, and more. In doing so, you can assess how well your rental and its policies align with their needs and preferences.
If there’s a mismatch between expectations, conflicts and disputes could arise between you and the tenant (and your neighbours), or they may choose to vacate your property early, increasing your turnover costs.
2. What’s your preferred move-in date?
Depending on when they plan to relocate, a tenant may or may not be a good fit for your rental. Let’s say your property has remained vacant for an extended period already, but the tenant plans to move in after three months. If you cannot afford to incur any additional months of lost rent, you’d be better off choosing a tenant who wishes to move in immediately.
Another reason to inquire about a tenant’s move-in date is to ensure you’ll have sufficient time to get your rental in order. You may need to tidy up the unit, check for leaky pipes, inspect the appliances, and perform critical repairs.
3. What’s your preferred lease term?
This question is critical as it ensures your tenant’s lease terms align with yours. Are they looking for a place to rent for a few months? If so, they wouldn’t be suitable for your rental if your goal is to sign a tenant for a one-year lease term.
Alternatively, if you operate your property as an Airbnb-style vacation rental, your preferred tenant will be the one looking to stay for the short term. In that case, you’ll have to weed out those seeking long-term accommodation.
4. How many people will be renting or living with you?
Knowing how many people will live in your rental is an important question to ask potential tenants for three reasons.
First, you want to be sure that your rental can accommodate everyone in terms of space and amenities. Overcrowding can lead to unpleasant and unsanitary living conditions and increase the risk of property damage.
Second, you must observe local and provincial public health and housing regulations limiting the number of people living on one property. You could get hit with health and safety violations if authorities believe the living conditions in your property endangers tenants’ lives.
Third, the more people living in your property, the higher the expenses you can expect for fixed costs like utilities. By knowing the number of occupants in advance, you can set an appropriate rent fee.
5. Do you have any pets?
Over 58% of Canadian households own at least one dog or cat, so asking the applicant if they’ll bring a pet along when they move in is wise.
If you allow animals, you can ask the tenant follow-up questions about how many pets they own, their breed, age, size, and whether they’re housebroken. Be sure to articulate any restrictions clearly to the tenant to avoid any misunderstanding around your pet policy.
6. Have you given proper notice to your current landlord?
Ask the tenant if they’ve advised their current landlord of their impending move. Knowing this detail is valuable, as it can help you judge if they’re reliable and trustworthy. It also shows whether they’re responsible, as there are laws in place that require tenants to give proper notice when ending a lease.
A tenant who habitually breaks leases while providing insufficient notice is a potential red flag. Inviting this individual to be your tenant may lead to higher turnover costs and more prolonged vacancies.
7. Do you have full-time, part-time, or seasonal work?
Knowing a few key details about the nature of your potential tenant’s work will allow you to assess the reliability of their income. Do they have a steady, full-time job at a well-established company? Do they work part-time at a convenience store? Do they work only during the summer?
A tenant who earns little money from seasonal work, has no other income sources, but wishes to sign a one-year lease, may significantly increase the risk of late payments. On the other hand, a tenant with a stable full-time job is likely to meet rent payment deadlines easily.
8. Will paying the first month’s rent and a security deposit be an issue?
This is an important question to ask potential tenants because it lets you gauge whether the tenant’s budget can meet your rental’s financial demands. Do they have adequate savings to pay these costs upfront once they sign the lease agreement? Can they manage the rent payments while still covering their other day-to-day expenses?
An inability to pay the first month’s rent and a security deposit may indicate the tenant could struggle to pay their rent.
9. Do I have your permission to do a background and credit check?
Proper tenant screening involves comprehensive credit and background checks to gauge reliability and trustworthiness. Both are vital, as the information you can obtain may sway you to either accept the applicant for tenancy or reject them altogether.
Besides getting access to crucial details, you must obtain the tenant’s consent before pulling their credit report and doing a criminal record check. If they deny you permission, it’s a potential warning sign of a tarnished credit report or a criminal history.
Download tenant screening resources
Find all the questions to ask potential tenants in our two resources below.
Know your tenant screening laws
Each province and territory has laws restricting landlords from asking prospective tenants specific questions. You must know these laws and ensure you don’t breach them when pre-screening applicants. Otherwise, you risk paying a fine or becoming embroiled in a lawsuit.
As a landlord, you cannot ask prospective tenants questions that violate their rights under your jurisdiction’s Human Rights Code. While the legislation varies depending on your province or territory, it shares many similarities across each region. In general, you cannot ask questions that relate to tenants’ age, disability, religion, country of origin, family status, sexual orientation, and similar characteristics.
Our final thoughts
Thorough screening is vital when searching for a tenant to occupy your rental property. You can save plenty of time, money, and energy by doing a pre-screening interview first. By understanding the key questions to ask potential tenants, you’ll collect enough details to identify which applicants are the right fit. If they meet your minimum standards, you can proceed by screening them further. If not, it’s on to the next one.
Looking for a way to pre-screen a tenant that’s fast, convenient, and done entirely online? Try SingleKey’s free pre-screening form. This customizable form includes questions that cover key areas like finances, lifestyle, and desired lease terms — everything you need as a landlord to assess whether an applicant deserves to be your tenant.