Tenant Screening: What to Ask and What to Avoid
Do you have a set process for your tenant screening? If not, you should work to get one in place. Having a routine means that you are less likely to miss something – and less likely to say something you shouldn’t. There are many laws to follow in the property rental business. Knowing what to ask during your tenant screening and what to avoid can make the entire process flow much easier – and reduce your risk of landing in hot water.
We highly advise that you make yourself very familiar with federal, state, and local laws regarding landlord-tenant actions. In the meantime, these pointers will help get you started.
The important factors
Lastly, there are those little pieces of important information that you will want to have answered before making a decision. Generally, it involves:
- A credit-check. You don’t have to base your entire decision on the results, but it a credit score can be a good indicator of an individual’s level of responsibility.
- Employment history. Confirm the employment history for all adults that will be residing at the property. Look for the length of employment and salary. Call to verify.
- Rental history. Verify with prior landlord.
- Criminal background check. You can ask the prospective tenant to submit to the background check, but you cannot ask about arrest history – or deny a tenant based on the answer.
Should you deny an applicant based on any of this information, be sure to put it in writing. Then, keep this information stored away in case that it should come back as questionable discrimination or the like. Always document your decision.
Ask about moving
Aren’t you curious as to why your prospective tenants are moving in the first place? If you aren’t, you should be. Moving is not usually a pleasant task – so, what happened that has caused this move? This is especially important if they are moving locally.
Ask questions, such as:
- Why are you leaving your last rental?
- What was something you didn’t like about living there?
- What was something you did enjoy?
- When are you planning on moving?
- Who resides with you now? Who will be residing with you in your new place?
Getting an idea as to why these potential tenants are moving can give you a tad bit of insight as to their situation.
Discrimination can come in the form of asking questions or in your behavior. If you don’t want to get yourself in trouble, steer clear of anything that could be construed as discrimination. This may be in regard to ethnicity, skin color, sex, familial status, sexual orientation, religion, and disability.
A few examples not to ask:
- What country were you born in?
- Are you divorced? Are you seeing anyone?
- Are you pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant?
- Are you comfortable living in a community with people who have a different ethnicity than you?
- What religion do you practice?
Even if you ask the questions in an honest and sincere manner, the message may not come across that way. Avoid these topics entirely – whether questions or statements - when it comes to tenants.
Screening tenants will work best if you have a set process. If applicant A goes through the same exact process as applicant B, you reduce the chances for any legal issues. Keep it clean, keep it documented – and follow the law.
Marina Shlomov, a managing partner at ALH|Podland Realty & Rental Homes Property Management is the author of many articles on Landlording, Property Management, and Real Estate Investing. A residential builder in the state of Georgia since 1999, Marina is an investor herself. Her property management company is intended “For Investors” and “By Investors” for a simple reason – she knows what investors’ goals are and she works hard to reach their goals. In her spare time, Marina likes to spend time with her family, friends, garden, read and travel. Check her out at www.alhpodland.com. You can find Marina’s articles and comments at @rentalhomesatl on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+, Blogger. and YouTube,Bigger Pockets and REI Club and LinkedIn.