Properly screening your tenants is the most important step a landlord can do to protect their investment property and management business.
In order to ensure that you have responsible tenants, that not only pay their rent on time but also value and take care of their home, there are certain qualifications landlords use to evaluate prospective renters.
These qualifications have become universal standards most property owners and mangers use to find the most qualified tenants for their rental property. However, in order to protect tenants’ rights and prevent unfair approval or denial, the Fair Housing Act was created to make sure all applicants are treated equally.
While tenant interviews do not need to to be as formal and nerve racking as a job interview, they are still a great way for landlords to get to know their applicants.
To help landlords and property managers understand what they can and cannot ask prospective tenants we have complied a list of the dos and don’ts in a tenant interview.
DO ask about income and employment.
Property managers need to make sure their tenants have adequate and reliable means to pay rent on time. Ask your applicant to provide pay-stubs and an employer phone number so you can verify their employment status. Some property managers use the 30% rule, where a minimum qualification for renters includes making sure the monthly rent amount is no more than 30% of their monthly income.
Pro Tip: Worried that your applicant provided a fake number for their employer reference? Google the company they claim to work for and call the main office phone number instead.
DON’T ask questions that violate the Fair Housing Act.
To protect tenants, landlords and property managers cannot ask their tenants any questions about race, religion, familial status, national origin, sex or age.
DO ask how many adults are going to be living in the property.
It is reasonable for a landlord to want to know how many people will be living in a rental house and even to require all tenants over 18 to be part of the lease.
Landlords must follow occupancy guidelines and should check with their state rules on the maximum number of people you can allow in a rental home.
DON’T ask if your applicant is married or has kids.
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot ask tenants about familial status or reject an applicant with children. This topic is tricky because asking about children and family is an easy conversation topic, but you must be careful as a landlord because it can be a serious violation of your tenant’s rights.
DO get approval to run a credit check.
Property managers and landlord are allowed to run credit checks for tenant screening purposes only but they have to get approval first. Make sure your application includes a section asking for an applicant’s permission to run a credit and background check.
DON’T run background checks only on some tenants.
Make sure you are screening all your tenants with the same process. If you only run background or credit checks on applicants that you feel look unkempt or irresponsible, you could be considered to be demonstrating discriminatory behavior.
To protect yourself against discrimination accusations, set the same standards for every applicant and screen every prospective tenant.
DO ask if they have ever been evicted.
Prior evictions can be examples of problematic behavior and should be avoided. Asking your applicant directly about past evictions gives them an opportunity to explain the situation.
Online tenant screening services let landlords check eviction reports and will expose the truth if your applicant is lying.
DON’T ask if they have ever been arrested.
It is considered illegal by HUD to use arrest records for tenant screening purposes. But you can check an applicant’s criminal background to verify if they have ever been convicted of a dangerous crime.
There is a big difference between getting arrested and getting convicted of a crime. Tenant screening software lets landlords run a criminal background check that will let you know your applicant’s legal violations on the state, national and county level.
Make sure to check your state’s laws against rejecting an applicant based on pass criminal behavior. The crime would have to influence their ability to be a good tenant, such as an illegal drug conviction or a history of violent offenses which could put other tenants at risk.
Putting it all together
Using these guidelines during a tenant interview will help you find the most qualified prospects for your rental property while avoiding issues of discrimination. Beyond conversations and a paper application, always perform a detailed tenant background and credit check to find out if your applicant has responsible financial tendencies and respects the law.
What other legal tenant interview questions have you found helpful during your screening process? Let us know in the comments!