Now that you’re done marketing your rental property, you’re probably getting a lot of inquiries about it. Hurray for you! The first hurdle is done. By now you should have a healthy list of prospective tenants lined up and ready to be screened. The next step is to find the perfect tenant for your rental property. Asking the right questions during the screening and application process is the next important step. So what questions do you ask? Here are 10 of them that you can use as a guideline, plus one bonus (but very important) question to ask after asking the first ten. Feel free to add more questions that you deem important.
1. Why are you looking to move?
It’s actually an excellent question to ask your potential tenants. Their answers to this question will tell you what their motivations are. Are they looking to be closer to work, closer to their children’s school, closer to nature, or closer to social hubs? Are they looking for more space or looking to downsize? Are they moving because the rent at their current place of residence is increasing? When you get your answer to this question, you are a step closer to understanding your potential tenant better.
2. How long have you lived in your current residence?
Your prospective tenant’s answer to this question will tell you about their patterns. If they have a history of moving every year, (or every two years, etc) this pattern will most likely continue. You will have a better understanding of their renting patterns. Regular house moves most likely mean they have to move for work or deployment. Use this information to draft the preferred lease duration – a year, two years, or longer.
3. When are you able to move in?
Your prospective tenant’s answer to this question will let you know how much time you both have to get your affairs in order. It usually takes 30 days of notice to terminate a lease – so your prospective tenants will have that long to move out of their current place before they can move into your rental property. Prospective tenants usually move at the beginning of the month.
4. Can I contact your employer and former landlords?
You can use them as a reference to find out your prospective tenant’s rent history. You can ask former landlords if your prospective tenants were reliable? Did they pay rent on time? Did they have any problems with your prospective tenants? Would they rent to your prospective tenants again?
5. What is your monthly income?
Your prospective tenant’s answer to this question will let you gauge if they will be able to pay rent on time. Be careful though, some states allow you to ask about total monthly income but NOT about the sources of income. As a general rule, rent should be no more than 30% of the total monthly income.
6. How many people will be living with you?
Here are some guidelines to the City Seattle Occupancy Code:
A. Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room which shall have not less than one hundred twenty (120) square feet of floor area.
B. No habitable room except a kitchen may be less than seven feet in any floor dimension.
C. Every room used for sleeping purposes, including an SRO unit, shall have not less than seventy (70) square feet of floor area. Every room, except an SRO unit, which is used for both cooking and living or both living and sleeping quarters shall have a floor area of not less than one hundred thirty (130) square feet if used or intended to be used by only one occupant, or of not less than one hundred fifty (150) square feet if used or intended to be used by two occupants. Where more than two persons occupy a room used for sleeping purposes, the required floor area shall be increased at the rate of fifty (50) square feet for each occupant in excess of two.
Also note that under the Fair Housing Act, familial status is a protected class. Babies under one year of age do not count as occupants. You may be able to turn a prospective tenant down if the number of adults and children seeking to rent your property is more than what your property can handle. Refer to the guidelines listed above.
7. Does anyone in your household smoke?
This is an important question to ask, especially if you have a strict no smoking policy. Cigarette smoke odor can stick to walls and upholstery. Cigarettes are also a fire hazard.
8. Do you have any pets?
This is an important question to ask, especially if you have a strict no pets policy. If you do allow pets, be sure to set a pet policy with reasonable requirements and inform the prospective tenants of pet deposits or fees. Remember that pets can also cause property damage, so it is important to have very clear pet policies. It could also benefit you as a landlord to include provisions such as the number and size of pets in the lease agreement. Note that federal fair housing laws may prohibit you from denying service and emotional support animals regardless of your pet policy
9. How many parking spaces do you require?
Most families have 2 cars. So prepare for that if you are interviewing families. Let your prospective tenants know a fair amount of parking space you can afford to give them. Inform them about no parking zones and street and off-street parking provisions.
10. Are you familiar with our rental application process?
If your prospective tenants are aware of the rental application process, then it’ll be easy for both of you. However, most applicants don’t – or they need a good reminder. Inform them about the steps they need to complete, the fees they need to pay, and the forms and documents they need to fill out.
Bonus question: Do you have any questions?
This gives your prospective tenants a chance to ask and clarify. Give them that opportunity.
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