EXCERPT: We include a General Information Questionnaire in our tenant application to learn a bit more about applicants beyond the basic pieces of information. In this section, you are asking questions about the applicant’s life to determine their responsibility and further determine their candidacy for tenancy.
16 Insightful Questions Landlords Should Ask Every Prospective Tenant
1. “How long will you live here?”
Unless you are in the transient business, always look for tenants who indicate they are planning on staying in the home long-term. Because turnover and vacancy can be a couple of the most expensive things a landlord goes through, they should be avoided when possible. If the applicant writes down anything less than a year, that is probably your sign that they are not a good candidate.
2. “What pets do you have?”
Whether you allow pets or not in your rentals, this question is phrased in such a way as to not appear negative. If you were to ask, “Do you have any pets?” they may write “no,” thinking a “yes” will immediately disqualify them. Asking “what” instead of “do you” increases the chances of their being honest with this question.
3. “How many evictions have been filed upon you?”
We used to ask, “Have you ever been evicted?” until we read about this little gem in Mike Butler’s book Landlording on Autopilot: A Simple, No-Brainer System for Higher Profits and Fewer Headaches. In his book, Butler explains that landlords should phrase the question like this: “How many evictions have been filed on you?” Such wording will require the tenant to think and not write an automatic “no.” Yes and no questions are much too easy to falsify, and tenants are used to questions being phrased that way. Also, an eviction filing identifies an irresponsible tenant as much as an eviction that proceeded to the point of the Sheriff escorting them out the door. Both are consequences of bad behavior that you don’t need to deal with. Having them write an actual number also takes away their ability to claim they misunderstood the question.
4. “How many felonies do you have?”
Once again, phrasing this question “how many,” rather than “do you have” requires the tenant to stop and think about how they answer. Obviously, this information will be available on the tenant’s background check, but by asking it here, you are able to determine whether or not the applicant is the honest sort or someone who has no problem falsifying answers to get what they want.
5. “Have you ever broken a lease?”
This information should also be discovered when gathering your landlord references, but by asking here you again will be able to determine your applicant’s honesty. If they have broken a lease, find out the details from the previous landlord and be prepared to require additional securities should you decide to rent to them.
6. “Do you smoke?”
One of our qualification standards states that all applicants must be non-smokers in order to be approved. This is a fairly new standard we have added, and it may seem harsh, but it became necessary after getting unit after unit back that had smoke permeating the walls and carpet, despite having a “no smoking” policy. Smoke gets into everything and can only be remedied by re-painting with oil-based paint and replacing the flooring. Sometimes you may even need to oil-base prime the floor underneath your new carpet to seal out the odor. It’s a hassle, and it’s expensive. When we realized a “no smoking” policy was not enough, we took it one step further and eliminated smokers altogether. A “yes” to this question on the application will result in immediate disqualification from us—unless it’s for medical marijuana, which we may have to accommodate, though specific locations outside the interior of the home can be designated.
7. “How many vehicles do you own?”
Do you want to be the landlord with four vehicles in the driveway and two inoperable vehicles in the yard? Neither do we. It’s good to find out before you approve them how many vehicles they plan to bring with them. It’s also a good idea to have a limit to the number of vehicles they can have on the property.
8. “Is the total move-in amount available now?”
The answer to this question gives you a good indication of whether your applicant is financially responsible and plans ahead. If they knew they would be moving and have gone so far as to apply for your rental, they should have had adequate time to prepare for the move-in money standards.