Experienced landlords have learned how to save valuable time by knowing what pre-screening questions to ask in a tenant interview. Wise landlords understand how to evaluate potential tenants before booking a showing. Why bother with tenant screening? Pre-screening helps determine whether potential tenants are suitable for your rental property.
Why ask pre-screening questions?
Let’s say you book a showing with a potential tenant for your furnished, two-bedroom, 500 sq foot, no pets allowed basement suite. When you arrive at your property, five people show up. During the showing, they tell you that in addition to the five, they have friends come to stay with them on occasional weekends, and they own three pit bulls.
You’ve just wasted an hour of your time, an hour of their time, and your gas. By asking pre-screening questions, you would have saved your time and avoided aggravation.
Pre-screening interviews help landlords reduce their risk of leasing to the wrong tenants and avoid problem tenants with a history of non-payment or destructive behavior. Pre-screening questions can help landlords identify potential issues with a tenant’s previous rental history, employment history, and creditworthiness, allowing them to make informed decisions about who they choose to lease their property to.
By conducting consistent pre-screening interviews for all tenants, landlords can also ensure that they comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act and the landlord-tenant law, avoiding the potential for discriminatory practices.
What are the best pre-screening interview questions?
Before you commit to booking a showing, arrange a phone call or video call and have these 13 pre-screening questions handy. Don’t worry if you can’t keep them all in your head; most landlords keep a copy of the questions to ask potential tenants in their office, in their car, in their purse – wherever they might be answering a call from a potential tenant.
Pre-screening phone calls give you a feel for the potential tenant and allow you to assess whether they are someone you feel comfortable renting your property to and who you’d like to work with. It also allows you the opportunity to tell the potential tenant about your application process. When disclosing personal information, most tenants don’t like surprises.
The biggest tip to remember is after asking the question, stay completely silent. People feel uncomfortable with silence and will talk to fill the void. You want them to say as much as possible so that you can get a feel for who you’re dealing with.
- Tell me about yourself ?
- How many pets do you have? What breed, weight, age? There is a pet lease with ____ per pet (or whatever your pet lease policy is)
- How many people will be living in the property? Is this property for you or someone else?
- Do you smoke or vape?
- What date do you want to move in?
- How long do you want to stay? 6 months, a year?
- Have you given notice to your current landlord?
- Why are you leaving your current rental?
- What is your current address?
- When did you move to this address?
- The application process involves providing three landlord and three work references, income verification, and a credit check. Are you ok with this?
- Can you verify your income?
- The rent and security deposit is ______ among and both are due before you take possession, is that ok or will that be a problem?
1. Tell me about yourself?
This is a good open-ended question as long as you remember to stay absolutely quiet! You’d be surprised by the type of information they’ll share to fill the void.
2. How many pets do you have? What breed, weight, age? Pet lease.
It’s better to ask how many pets rather than do you have pets. For whatever reason, people are more inclined to provide an honest answer with an open-ended question. If your property insurance or building have restrictions about the breed, type, height, and weight of the animals, you can eliminate anyone who doesn’t fit the criteria.
In Alberta, charging a pet fee and having tenants sign a pet lease is legal. If you have a pet lease and charge a fee per pet, it’s best to let tenants know the costs upfront.
3. How many people will be living in the property? Is this property for you or someone else?
The person calling for the showing may or may not be the tenant, so it’s good to check. Also, you need to know how many people will occupy your unit. There are minimum housing standards that stipulate the allowable number of people per space and bathroom, property insurance limits the number of non-related occupants, and you may have your own maximum limit of people to minimize wear and tear to your property.
4. Do you smoke or vape?
It’s your choice as the landlord to allow or disallow smoking in your property, and most buildings have designated smoking areas.
5. What date do you want to move in?
It’s not unusual for potential tenants to want to move in the next day. It also isn’t unusual for people to be scouting for a property three months down the road. However, if the property is available at the end of the month or you can’t wait three months to rent it, this is good information to know.
6. How long do you want to stay? 6 months, a year?
What type of tenant do you want? Long-term? Short-term? Medium-term? It’s always good to check to see if their duration matches your needs.
7. Have you given notice to your current landlord?
This is a telling question. If the tenant leaves without giving notice, they’ll do the same to you. These types of tenants are best avoided.
8. Why are you leaving your current rental?
This question can keep you entertained for years to come! Potential tenants told me they were suing their last three landlords. Some good tenants want a larger space or more prestigious property and are downsizing because of divorce or kids moving out. Let them tell you.
9. What is your current address?
You will ask them this question multiple times; at the showing, on the application, and it will show up on their credit report. It’s good to confirm.
Again, you’ll this question multiple times for the above reasons.
10. When did you move to this address?
Same as above.
11. The application process involves providing three landlord and three work references, income verification, and a credit check. Are you ok with this?
Most tenants know the rigor involved in a rental screening process and are fine with it. Others will throw a fit – let them go. Good tenants are happy to show off their good credit and glowing references. Bad tenants will try to throw you off by bullying behaviour or providing all kinds of sad stories.
12. Can you verify your income?
Did you know you cannot ask potential tenants if they are working? It implies you are excluding those who don’t work – it’s covered under the Human Rights Act. You can, however, ask them to verify their employment and ask for a recent pay stub from their employer. Many people have income from other legal sources such as trust accounts, alimony, pensions, savings, etc., and it is legal to ask for proof.
13. The rent and security deposit is ______ and both are due before you take possession, is that ok, or will that be a problem?
If it’s ok, great, book a showing. If they can’t, and you’re firm on this, they’ll move on to another property.
As a final time-saving tenant screening tip, let tenants know they must text you one hour before their appointment to confirm they are coming. If they don’t text you, you will consider the appointment canceled and not drive to meet them. Occasionally, emergencies happen, and it’s necessary to reschedule, however; if they can’t follow a simple instruction, you don’t want them.
Pre-screening helps you to determine whether potential tenants are suitable for your rental property – it’s a valuable time-saving step in your process that helps you to determine whether potential tenants are the right fit for your rental property.
If you’d like access to my thorough 5-Step tenant screening process – click here.
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