The Right Ways to Screen Prospective Tenants

The Right Ways to Screen Prospective Tenants

Know the Law and Your Rights Before Interviewing Prospective TenantsIf you have rental property, whether it's commercial property or residential, you are probably wary about asking the wrong questions as you show property. It's still important, though, to screen prospective tenants. In addition to requiring a completed application form, a deposit and a credit check, what are the basic musts and "must nots" in terms of complying with the law and protecting yourself as a landlord?

The Federal Fair Housing Act

The Federal Fair Housing Act seeks to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children for those who seek to rent, buy or apply for financing for housing in the United States. Any written application or personal interview must be mindful of the requirements under the law. If you have questions about what you can or cannot ask of a prospective tenant, consult with a knowledgeable legal representative.

The basic requirement is that, as an investor, property manager or owner, you must treat all prospective tenants equally, and offer no special concessions or incentives to one person that are unavailable to another person.

Beyond that, however, you will want to obtain written documentation of other information that might affect your decision to lease property to an individual or a family. And then you will want to verify the information supplied to you, either in person or by using a service to validate credit information and check references.

Five Must-Have Answers

Having a "good feeling" about a prospective tenant is no longer good enough. Most experienced leasing agents and landlords agree that there are a handful of "pre-screening" questions that can save you time, effort, and money. Whether your first contact is by telephone or in-person at a property open house, take the time to ask the following questions:

  • Why are you moving?
  • What is your moving timetable?
  • What is your monthly household income?
  • May I call your former landlord and your employer?
  • Do you have the required deposit and first month's rent available now or will you have funds available by move-in?

If the prospective applicant hesitates or offers unclear or unacceptable answers to any of these simple questions, you might not want to hand them the written application at this time.

Unless you are at the property, or the applicant has already seen the home or apartment, you will want to schedule a showing. Before doing that, however, you can ask a couple of other questions. You are still on the lookout for red flags that might end the interview or indicate a reason not to move on to the next stage. 

Verification and Actual Lease Contract

As a leasing agent, you have not only the right but a responsibility to ask if the prospective renter will complete a standard application, submit to a credit and background check and allow you to verify income.

You should also ask how many people will be living in the Hennepin County property, if there are pets, and if they have ever been evicted. If you have rules governing the number of full-time inhabitants, the number of vehicles, and pets (including what kind and how many) the answers to these questions might constitute grounds for not proceeding with an application. Just remember that you must apply all standards in the same way to every potential tenant. As long as the answers conform to your stated (meaning written and legally defined) requirements, you cannot turn down an applicant based on their response.

Finally, ask if they have any questions of you? The tenant/landlord relationship is a two-way street, and responsible tenants will usually have one or two questions to ask, which you should do your best to provide accurate and complete answers. If you have questions about how much information you are required to disclose, check with proper authorities.

If, after such a fact-gathering interview, you have that "good feeling," it might be time to ask if the potential renter would like to review a copy of your standard lease agreement. It's to the benefit of both landlord and tenant to iron out all possible wrinkles in advance so that when it comes time to sign on the dotted line there will be nothing left to question.

Assuming that all verifications are returned positive, you will be able to welcome your new tenant home.

Post a Comment