13 Questions You Should Ask When Screening Tenants

19% of all households in the UK rent private property. That’s a little over 4.4 million renters. The size of the private renting sector can make it challenging for landlords to sift through applicants. How can you make sure that the people you are letting your property to can be trusted to maintain it and pay rent on time?

A key step in the process of property letting is to have an in-person interview with applicants. You will gain much insight from potential tenants and weed out those that might prove troublesome. To help you with this process, here are 13 questions that you should ask applicants during the screening session.

1. Why Choose to Rent?

The best place to start is to ask why the applicant is renting. It’s a simple question to answer that cuts straight to the heart of the matter, and will allow them to feel more at ease by opening up about themselves.

Usually, their response will be that they’re either finally moving out from their parents’ home to live independently, they need a place that’s closer to work, or they’re currently saving up in the hope of eventually buying their own home.

2. When Do You Plan to Move?

A more practical question, this immediately lets you know if you and the applicant’s schedules align. Having a lengthy void period can be detrimental to your finances, so if the applicant doesn’t actually plan on moving into the property within a reasonable date, you can end the screening now and save each other time. 

3. Have You Ever Rented Before?

Experience in renting can be a big difference maker for how well an applicant will treat your property, while also giving you an idea as to how long they might rent your property.

A first-time renter is unlikely to know what their responsibilities are as a tenant. In that case, you will have to take the time to inform them to ensure your property is well taken care of. 

For those who do have previous experience, you can probe a little deeper into their history of renting to scope out how they might be as a tenant. 

4. If You Have Rented or Are Currently Renting, How’s Your Relationship With Your Latest Landlord?

This follow-up question for experienced renters can hint strongly at how your relationship with them could play out. 

Whatever positives and negatives they bring up should key you in on what they find important as a tenant. If they air out grievances about valid issues like their previous landlord neglecting repairs or being hard to reach, take the opportunity to reassure them that you have processes in place to address such issues.

5. Have You Ever Been Evicted?

While there may be reasonable answers to this question, any other answer than “no” should give you pause. At the very least, asking this during the interview process will give applicants the time and space to explain themselves. Extenuating circumstances must be considered in order to treat applicants fairly. 

6. Do You Have References?

A formal application process will check for references, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the question up front during the interview. This is another way to find out early on if the applicant is prepared for tenancy or not. An applicant that either can’t or won’t provide a reference is likely not a good candidate for letting your property.

7. How Long Do You Plan On Renting?

Conventional wisdom would have it that you only get tenants that can rent for, at the very least, six months. Having to repeat the arduous process of getting a new tenant any sooner than that is not worth the time and effort. However, you may be in the rare situation where you plan on renovating the property you’re letting sometime soon, but you still want to have a tenant in the meantime. In that case, allowing for even shorter contracts may be an option.

8. Are You Looking for Improvements to the Property?

You want to make sure that the tenant is okay with renting the property as it is. Closing the deal without either party acknowledging this particular issue may result in an unhappy, demanding tenant. You do not want your relationship to start off on the wrong foot, with the tenant complaining immediately about the furniture or the heating. 

9. Will You Have Other People Living With You?

The person you’re screening or the people coming in to view your property may not be the only ones who will actually be living in the property. The place may not have enough space for the number of people that the applicant plans on moving in with. More tenants may also increase the wear and tear on the property.

Most importantly, there are legal requirements that need to be met for multiple people renting the same property. All tenants need to be named in the tenancy agreement. If it’s a joint tenancy, any one or all of the tenants can be held liable for paying the whole rent. Insurance terms may also put a hard limit on how many people can live in a property. Ask for the ages of the other occupants and how they might be related to the applicant.

10. Do You Have Pets?

51% of adults in the UK own a pet. With that figure in mind, there’s a fair chance that some of your applicants will have a pet. You do have the right to refuse applicants with pets for a good reason. If you are only letting a small flat, it’s reasonable to decline applicants that have a big dog. This is why it’s also important to ask what kind of pet an applicant may have, if you’re open to having pets in your property.

11. Do You Smoke?

Smoking can cause property damage and may even pose as a safety hazard depending on your property. It’s understandable to have a strict no-smoking policy because of these concerns. Around 5.5 million adults in the UK are smokers, so it’s a fair question to ask and address as soon as possible. There is no law that outright bans smoking in rented properties, but you can include a clause in the tenancy agreement that establishes terms on smoking in your property.

12. What Do You Do for Work?

The more obvious reason for asking about the applicant’s job is to gain some insight on how reliable they will be at paying rent. A tenant with a full-time, high-paying job ideally shouldn’t have trouble settling bills, but there may be some cause for concern if the tenant is a freelancer.

The less apparent reason is to help you figure out the potential behaviour of the applicant. If they are normally working the graveyard shift, it could be difficult to contact them. Someone who works from home may put your property through its paces much faster than someone who has to go to the office throughout the work week.

13. Do You Have Any Questions?

It’s good to remember that this process isn’t supposed to be an interrogation. It’s a conversation where both parties would like to come to an agreement and benefit from one another. By opening yourself up to their questions, you’re showing them that it won’t be a lopsided relationship and that you can be trusted to be transparent.