The LandLordStation.com tenant screening process gives you a large amount of information about prospective tenants. You can get more information by making a list of additional questions to ask prospective tenants during interviews. There are, however, specific questions that you cannot ask a prospective tenant under penalty of law.
Be careful when you are considering the questions to ask. Potential tenant questions need to be thought through and carefully crafted. You should first ask yourself, “What questions can a landlord ask?” We offer the following list of some of the landlord questions to ask renters.
1) The most important question to ask is whether the prospective tenant will consent to a credit and background check. If he or she will not consent to a background check, you can eliminate the prospective tenant right away.
2) Ask a prospective tenant to provide references from their employer and former landlord. If the applicant hesitates, or makes excuses, there may be something the applicant is hiding.
3) Ask an applicant if they have ever been evicted. While you can get information regarding evictions, there may be a legitimate reason for why a tenant was evicted. Sometimes there are situations that are beyond the tenant’s control, but they still show up on his or her record. One example of this is when a landlord has a foreclosure filed on a rental property, and the lender evicts the tenant. Asking the tenant will provide you with a full explanation.
4) You can ask a prospective tenant why they are moving. This question can tell you a lot about a tenant so, listen carefully.
5) Ask the applicant when he or she would like to move into the property. If the tenant wants to move in right away, this should throw up a red flag. The tenant may have been evicted, or may have broken a lease. Of course, there are special circumstances that do apply in this situation. There may have been a pay cut, a job loss or a domestic situation. In general, a responsible tenant will give a 30-day notice and will begin their search for a new residence within that time frame.
6) You can ask the amount of the prospective tenant’s monthly income to see if they can afford your rental. The general rule of thumb is that the tenant must have an income that is 2.5 times the amount of the rent. For example if the rent is $1000 per month, the applicant should be making at least $2500 a month.
7) Ask the prospective tenant whether he or she will have the security deposit and first month’s rent available prior to move-in. It is never a good idea to allow a tenant to move in with only a promise to pay the rent and deposits in the future. Always require the full amount before he or she moves into the unit.
8) Ask a potential tenant whether they have pets. You should have a pet policy in place prior to showing any property. This policy should have a set amount for a pet deposit and/or pet rent, as well as the size and number of pets you will allow. Of course, you cannot refuse to rent to anyone with a certified service animal.
9) Be sure to ask how many people will be living in the rental property. Most local and state laws only allow a maximum of two people per bedroom for health and safety reasons. You may be tempted to make an exception to this rule if someone has very small children who can share a room but, legally you cannot. It is also a good idea to insist that each adult sign the lease, and that you conduct a background and credit check on each.
10) Ask the prospective tenant whether they have any questions about the property. A serious prospect will have questions for you. You should be cautious of someone who wants to sign a lease and move in without asking questions.
This is only a partial list of questions to ask prospective tenants. You may come up with some of your own. You must be careful, however, not to ask questions that are illegal under the Federal Fair Housing Law, or under your state’s Fair Housing Law. The Federal Fair Housing Act protects seven classes: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and familial status. Many states also have additional protected classes that fall under marital status and sexual orientation.
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, you cannot even discuss anything related to the protected classes with a prospective tenant. For example, you cannot tell a minority applicant that there are a lot of other minority people living in the area. You cannot ask if someone what his or her ethnicity is, or if he or she was born in the United States. The list of things that you cannot say, or ask about, regarding the seven classes mentioned above, is very long, so steer clear of any of these subjects.
To avoid trouble with fair housing laws, be sure to be consistent and fair in your screening and interviewing process when you are looking for a tenant. For instance, make it your policy to ask the same questions of each applicant and apply the same criteria to each application. The federal government actually hires people to apply for rental property to be sure that landlords are adhering to these laws. Be sure to treat all prospective tenants equally by asking them the same questions and giving them the same information.
We suggest that you familiarize yourself with federal and state law, use the LandLordStation.com tenant screening process, and our list of questions to ask prospective tenants. We offer a variety of sources for information that is helpful to landlords including our Community where real estate and legal professionals can answer your questions when you join in on the conversation. We also have a staff of friendly, knowledgeable customer service representatives who are always happy to offer assistance.
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