You've set up a great process for screening local applicants, but what do you do when you receive an application from outside your state? That's a different screening process altogether. But that doesn't mean you have to rule out the applicants completely, especially if they're willing to pay full rent without negotiation. Here are some questions to ask out-of-state applicants so you can make an informed decision.
Why Are You Moving to a New State?
Perhaps this question sounds like it’s none of your business, but in reality it is exactly your business when dealing with tenants from out of state. Listen to the answers, and see whether they raise any red flags. This is especially important because you don’t have a local vouching for this particular prospect. Watch out for tenants who are moving because of evictions, bad landlord relationships or job losses. You’ll want to look for legitimate relocation reasons like a new job opportunity or moving closer to family. Be wary of tenants who complain about their previous living situation -- you’re likely to have a faultfinder on your hands.
What is your Monthly Income and Do You Have any Debts?
This is pretty standard for all tenants, but it becomes especially worthwhile when you’re dealing with an out-of-state prospect. You’ll want a tenant with a steady job who can pay the rent and any fees on time every month. The rule of thumb is that income should be at least thrice the rental amount to be able to pay without issue. Make sure you check whether the tenant has existing debts, as this could severely impair ability to pay your rent and handle fees like security deposits and utilities. Be wary of tenants who ask to pay the security deposit monthly or in installments -- the half-now-and-half-later payment system for security deposits should be cause for concern.
Can I get a reference from your previous landlord?
Nearly every renter should be able to provide a reference from their previous landlord, barring the few who just moved out of their family home. Here’s a key tip -- ask for a former landlord rather than a current one, because a current landlord wanting be rid of his tenant may say just about anything. Ask simple questions: did they pay rent on time? Did they respect neighbors and properties? And here’s another tip -- get a neighbor's reference from the landlord to get an objective point of view without any embellishment.
How Many People Will You Live With?
Be as upfront as possible when you need to make a decision about an out-of-town tenant. Ask how many people will be living on the property. Based on the number of people, you may want to adjust the security deposit or rent. Keep in mind that most states have a law dictating that not more than two people can live in a bedroom. Ensure your tenant knows and follows this rule. And don’t forget to find out about pets, especially if you have a no-pet policy.
Can I meet you face to face to discuss the terms of the lease?
Frequently tenants from out of state will send their friends or family to inspect a prospective home. But far too many landlords have seen deals fall through after the lease agreement has been signed, with no way to get in touch with the original applicant. If your out-of-state applicant checks out in every other way, be sure to ask whether you can meet them in person to ensure you feel comfortable dealing with them. If a literal face-to-face isn't possible, consider Skype, FaceTime or other tool. This direct dialogue will give you better insight when making your decision.
Communication is key when dealing with out-of-state applicants, so be sure to ask as many questions as you deem necessary before making your decision.
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