When you’re talking to a potential tenant for the first time, there are 5 specific questions that can help you pre-qualify that tenant. There are also some questions you should avoid.
To pre-qualify, ask the potential tenant about credit score. This gives you an indication of what your potential tenant thinks about paying bills and managing money. As part of your background screening, we recommend pulling a credit report, and some tenants may not know their credit score. You can direct them to free sites like Credit Karma to check their score. You don’t want to waste their time if their score isn’t high enough for you to rent to them.
Ask how much a tenant earns, and remember the income must be from reliable sources. It doesn’t have to be a job; it can be child support, SSI, or housing assistance. The source has to be reliable. You want to know they have enough income to afford rent.
Ask if they have ever been evicted before. It isn’t a good sign if a potential tenant forced another landlord to evict them. But if it was far in the past and there is a good rental history since then, you may decide it’s not relevant and proceed with renting to them.
Ask if they have any felony convictions. You’re specifically looking for the manufacture and distribution of drugs, violent crimes, and property damage. If a felony is far in the past, again – you might not think it matters.
You want to know the tenants are who they say they are. Ask for government-issued identification, and cross-reference names, addresses, etc. with their credit report. Make sure they match. Everything should be verified, because identity theft is a growing problem.
Things Not to Ask
Don’t ask how many children a tenant has. It may seem innocent, but early in the process it could lead someone to believe you’re discriminating against families. You can ask that question on the rental application because you need to know who will be occupying the property and their ages. If a child is over the age of 18, they will need to make a separate rental application to be included on the lease. Any children under 18 can be added to the lease as authorized occupants.
Avoid asking anything related to the seven protected classes in federal fair housing laws. This includes race, religion, color, country of origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Asking those questions isn’t relevant to the process of renting, and could lead someone to believe you’re discriminating.