Finding the right tenants is a priority for any landlord or property manager. The old proverb says, "better an empty house than a bad tenant," but in truth, for most property owners an empty house is not desirable either. Full and functioning properties with responsible tenants are not just desirable but necessary.
And when finding the right tenant, your strongest tool is your lease application. So how do you use a lease questionnaire to get the right people and establish your community expectations? There are a few tips to avoid common problems with lease application questions.
Provide transparent screening notices
Even if a tenant completes your lease application -- you can't simply run someone's credit and ask many questions without explicit notice. Make sure your provide the correct screening notifications before following up on any potential tenant. Essentially, don't ask questions without permission.
Provide a disclosure noting if you will be running checks like credit reports, background checks, and eviction reports. Make sure tenants provide written authorization to complete these reports including contacting reference checks. Provide clear information on how these reports will be generated and how tenants may get a copy of this information.
Whatever you do, make sure these practices are acknowledged in writing and all questions answered before proceeding.
Check the references
Asking for leasing references allows you to carefully inquire about a potential tenant. Avoid problems by tailoring your questions to the type of reference listed to gain the most insight from each interaction. For example, ask a personal reference about what the person may do in their free time, but ask an employer about the person's work ethic.
Friends or family can be excellent at providing well-rounded insights into lifestyle and character. Employers can help answer questions about hours the person will be at home, interactions with coworkers, and verify employment and income. Former landlords can provide information on the condition of a previous property, interaction with neighbors, and also help you gain insight into any potential pets.
Asking the right questions to the right references will help you avoid future issues.
Ask red-flag questions
Some questions are almost standard on any lease application review process and you want to make sure you ask them all. Failure to discover an adequate answer for any of the following questions can be considered a red-flag alerting to a larger issue with the potential tenant. Make sure you always ask:
- Is the listed income verifiable?
- Is the tenant breaking their current lease? (and if so, why)
- Does everything on the application match the results of your screening tests?
- Did the lease applicant skip parts of the form? Which parts of the form don't have answers?
- Has the tenant changed residence with high frequency? Why are so many addresses listed in a short time period?
- Is the tenant in an inexplicable hurry for the process to be complete?
Red flag questions help you screen out common problems early and will cover topics considered fair game across jurisdictions and locations. Asking questions that you shouldn't, however, can also cause you problems on a lease application.
Avoid discriminatory questions
There are questions that you cannot ask as a landlord or property manager that are regulated by area. There are also questions you cannot ask as a property manager anywhere, because they violate fair housing laws. Discriminatory inquires might sound like:
- I don’t feel safe renting to a woman near street access.
- Where were your parents born?
- Is English your first language?
- Do you have a disability?
You should also avoid questions that are overly personal. Don't include a statement like:
- Are you married?
- Do you like men or women?
- How old are you?
Yes, these questions may be drawn from either innocence or ignorance and not from ill-will, but the implications of this type of inquiry can cause a world of problems. Instead, work to create non-leading questions that get the to point of the information you truly need. Try instead things like:
- I have installed added security for all tenants who rent on the first floor. I will be happy to give you a tour of the system.
- We have created community guides for those moving to our building. If you'd like suggestions on food and entertainment in the area - please let us know.
- Will you require any accommodations to make this rental accessible for your needs?
- How many adults will be listed on the lease?
Leasing applications are your best tool for finding the right tenant. Avoid these common question problems to get the best results during your leasing process.