How to pre-screen prospective tenants

You have advertised your rental property and find yourself inundated with enquiries from potential tenants – hopefully. But you’ve read all those scary stories about the tenants from hell and you don’t want to find yourself in a similar situation. It would be impossible to conduct thorough checks on everyone who has applied and so you need to pre-screen the applicants to identify the best prospects.

Pre-screening your tenants will enable you to weed out the time-wasters and many of the applicants which are unsuitable. You will need to speak to or meet each prospective tenant and interview them. It is incredible how much you can learn from a brief conversation if you ask the right questions. The answers can be revealing. Sometimes you need to trust your own instincts.

10 screening questions that every landlord should ask potential tenants before renting to save themselves valuable time further down the line.

  1. Why are you moving?

    There are many reasons why someone needs to find a new home, after all, we’ve all had to move at some point in our lives. Perhaps your tenant is relocating because they have been offered an excellent new job or they need to live closer to their family. However, some people will be moving on because they have been kicked out of their previous accommodation for non-payment of rent.

  2. When are you looking to move?

    If your property is vacant, the last thing you need is it lying empty for weeks on end. It is best to find a tenant who can move in on a date that suits you.

  3. What is your income?A potentially awkward question but one which must be asked. You can check the veracity of the answer later on, but use this information to eliminate tenants from your shortlist who might struggle to pay.
  4. Do you have a month’s rent and deposit in advance?Any applicant who lacks the funds to make the initial payment doesn’t warrant further consideration. Be wary of anyone who says they are working on this or borrowing the money. A definitive yes is what you are looking for and an offer of proof.
  5. How long do you want to rent the property for?Void periods will put a serious dent in your income and leave you having to conduct yet another search for the right tenants. People don’t always do what they say they are going to do and circumstances change, but it is best to identify a tenant who is intending to stay put for a reasonable time.
  6. Do you have references?Ask what type of references your applicant can supply. A reference from a previous landlord would give you greater peace of mind as would a reference from their employer. A trustworthy tenant will answer with confidence and will be happy to provide detailed information.
  7. Do you have a rental guarantor?If you have any doubts about your tenant’s ability to pay the rent, seek a guarantor. An honest and reasonable applicant will not be offended by the request and may already have an arrangement in place.
  8. Do you have any pets? Do you smoke?Smokers and pet owners aren’t necessarily a problem and may be respectful of your property. But you must make any house rules clear from the outset and carefully consider the response and body language of the prospective tenant when you ask this question.
  9. What is your lifestyle like?You may not receive an honest response to this enquiry, but you can check out the applicant via social media. Party animals could mean trouble.
  10. Have you ever been evicted?You may or may not receive an honest response to this question and you can make further checks. However, you can weed out any tenants who confess to issues in the past, and you might be able to detect a lie.

Pre-screening can feel a little awkward, but it is essential if you are to avoid wasting your time or encountering serious problems in the future. (if nevertheless you still get a bad tenant, see our guide on how to regain possession) A friendly and informal approach is best, and if you can keep your potential tenant talking about themselves for a few minutes, you will learn a lot without having to ask too many pointed questions. Be honest about your requirements and house rules and make it clear that you will be conducting detailed checks before offering anyone a tenancy agreement.

If you ask the right questions, listen carefully to what is said and trust your instincts, the tenant from hell should be somebody else’s problem.