When searching for a tenant for your property, you want to be sure that you are choosing the best candidate. To ensure you aren’t wasting everybody’s time, having some screening questions to ask potential tenants and to test suitability is a useful way of weeding out those candidates who don’t quite reach the mark. This may be down to income, lifestyle or previous tenancy experience, or even just something as simple as not having the same availability dates in mind.

There are no right or wrong questions to ask as it is all down to the type of property, and person. But, having a selection of standard and widely accepted queries will help you to narrow down the field and for the prospective tenant to see whether your property is the right fit for them too. 

It’s like online dating for homes! Once you are happy with each other’s responses, you may want to meet in person and schedule a viewing.

Income and affordability

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when interviewing a tenant is whether they can actually afford to live there. Ask them: 

  • Will you be able to pay the deposit when you sign the agreement?
  • What is your monthly income? 

This will determine whether they have ready funds available to move in immediately and whether they will be able to continue paying the rent throughout the tenancy. A standard rule of thumb is that a person’s monthly income should be at least three times that of the rent they are due to pay. Obviously, if more than one person is living in the property (e.g. a family, or a group of friends), then everyone’s income is taken into account.

Finding out what work they do, at this stage, will also help in recognizing whether they are likely to be working from home a lot or will be doing shifts at all times of day and night. This is useful to know for several reasons, including when the property is going to be actually occupied and how much extra wear and tear there might be. If someone is living there 24/7 and preparing all their meals in the kitchen, whilst also using it to work from home, then ensuring a durable and hardwearing surface will decrease the need for expensive upkeep on the property.

Current living situation

Next, it is handy to know: 

  • Are you currently renting?
  • Why are you looking to move?
  • Does your landlord know you are moving? 

Again, these questions to ask potential tenants provide a baseline from which to work. Someone who is currently renting knows what to expect and should be able to provide references. For someone who has never rented before – perhaps been living with family or a partner – it is more of an unknown. Not necessarily a negative, but could help to distinguish between two candidates.

If they are moving because they have fallen out with their landlord, then that could be a red flag. You don’t want to end up in the same position. But, if they are moving because they want to be closer to work or family, or want a bigger/smaller property, and their current landlord is well aware of the change, then those are all valid reasons which don’t require further scrutiny.

Likewise, someone who has been a long-term tenant rather than moved around a lot is a better bet if you are also looking for someone to be there for a while and not an interim short-term fix. Asking ‘How long have you lived in your current home?’ and ‘When would you want to move in?’ means neither of you are left in any doubt as to each other’s intentions for the lease on your property.

Lifestyle and expectations

There are various things a landlord can ask about in an effort to make sure that the condition of the property will not be adversely affected by their tenant, such as:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have any pets?

Smoking can leave nasty nicotine stains on the walls and pervade the property with smells while allowing pets in your rental property could see doors and walls get scratched, and floors damaged. This depends on the pet, of course. A fish is unlikely to cause too much harm, but a cat or a dog can be more troublesome.

In the same vein, a house full of young children will take more of a knock than a single professional living on their own. Being sure of who is actually going to be living there, how many people, and their respective lifestyles could be a deal-breaker or a deal sealer. It is worth asking the question.

In turn, the tenant may wish to know what parking facilities are available, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are, and whether there is any outdoor space.

Legal and paperwork pitfalls

This can sometimes be a bit awkward, so best to leave it to last, when you are happy with the answers to your other questions and are starting to build up a rapport with the tenant. But, asking: 

  • Have you ever been evicted or broken a rental agreement?
  • Have you been convicted of a crime?
  • Have you been declared bankruptcy?

These questions will give you a better picture of the sort of person with whom you are potentially renting your property to. If they have nothing to hide, then they should be perfectly happy to answer these sorts of questions and just see it for what it is; part of the vetting process.

Checking how long they want to rent the property for – a one-year lease is most usual for new tenants – and that they are happy to sign a contract to that effect and an inventory of any furniture, fixtures, and fittings within the property makes everyone’s lives easier and means there can be no comeback or disagreement when the tenancy is ended by either side.

Final thoughts

Don’t forget that the tenant screening procedure is as much for the potential tenant as it is for you. Make sure you give them the opportunity to ask you questions too and don’t just expect them to want to move in regardless, just because they have inquired about the property. It is a two-way process to enable you to both be happy with the arrangement and to have a good landlord-tenant relationship.