What to ask during pre-screening, screening, and post-application

With a detailed list of rental application questions, landlords can thoroughly evaluate every applicant and make the best decision for their rental properties. Before listing your property on the market, take the time to outline how you'll screen each tenant and establish a list of questions to ask during every stage of the application process.

March 19, 2024

7 min read


Because the rental market is so competitive, there’s a chance you might get multiple, well-qualified applications. However, if you don’t ask the right questions, finding the right tenant—or choosing one over another—can be challenging. With a comprehensive tenant screening approach, you’ll be able to thoroughly evaluate applicants so you can be confident about who you accept for your property. 

Benefits of screening your rental tenants

As a landlord or property manager, it's helpful to have a thorough screening process to guarantee:

Stable income every month

Every landlord wants tenants who are financially reliable. By reviewing an applicant’s credit history, employment status, and income, you’ll get a well-rounded view of their background, enabling you to assess whether or not they’ll be able to meet their rental obligations. While tenant screening doesn’t always guarantee that tenants will pay up when they should, it can minimize the potential for late or missed payments.

Fewer evictions and lower turnover

Evicting a tenant can cost you up to $3,500 with the entire process taking as long as three to four weeks. However, by thoroughly reviewing an applicant’s rental history, creditworthiness, and background, you can identify tenants who are more likely to stay long-term and fulfill their lease obligations. 

Ensures compliance with Fair Housing Laws

As a landlord, you’re free to choose which tenants you want to accept or deny—so long as you follow all local, state, and federal fair housing laws to ensure that each applicant is evaluated fairly. Adhering to these standardized screening procedures can protect you from costly violation fines, convictions, and civil lawsuits which can cost you up to $20,000 or more

Protects your property and other tenants 

As a landlord, you want tenants who will respect your property. Screenings can reveal if they have a positive or negative rental record or any criminal history that might jeopardize the safety of other residents. Asking the right questions before and during screening will help you choose tenants who will take care of your property so you can provide a secure environment for neighboring tenants.

Strengthens positive tenant-landlord relationships

Selecting tenants through a screening process aligned with your property's criteria sets clear expectations from the beginning and sets the foundation for a positive landlord-tenant relationship. When tenants are chosen based on fair and consistent criteria, it reduces misunderstandings and potential conflicts, ultimately creating a harmonious renting environment.

Why you should pre-screen tenants

Pre-screening can help you filter out unqualified applicants before investing further time, money, and resources into the application process. You can gather essential information regarding an applicant's rental history, employment status, income stability, and other pertinent details to see if they meet your minimum screening criteria before proceeding to the formal application phase. 

When you pre-screen tenants, consider asking questions like:

General information

  • What is your current employment status?
  • Can you provide information about your income source and its stability?
  • Why are you looking to move at this time?
  • What is your tentative moving timeline?
  • Will you require a cosigner for this apartment?
  • If we proceed to the next step, do you give consent to share your credit score and credit report?

Rental history

  • How long have you been renting at your current place?
  • Have you ever had to break your lease agreement and, if yes, why?

Expectations and lifestyle

  • How many people will be living with you?
  • Do you have any pets? If yes, please specify.
  • What are you looking for in your next rental home and neighborhood?

Why you should screen your tenants

Once you’ve pre-screened applicants and decided which ones to move forward with, conducting a comprehensive tenant screening can help inform your decision of whether or not they’ll be a good fit.  

At this phase of the screening process, get to know the prospective tenant by asking questions like:

  • How much is your current rent?
  • Have you ever been evicted? If yes, please provide additional detail.
  • Do you smoke?
  • Is every applicant on the application willing to undergo a background check?
  • Do you require parking? If so, how many spots will you need?

It’s also important to know which questions can get you in trouble. For example, questions referring to someone’s race, skin color, religion, sex, familial status, disability status, or nationality are off-limits. To play it safe, be sure to check your local housing laws when you make your list of tenant screening questions. If you aren’t sure whether or not your screening process is legally compliant, consider consulting a local attorney.

Avoid asking questions like:

  • Do you have kids?
  • What gender do you identify with?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you have a support animal?
  • Where are you from?
  • Were you ever arrested?

Why you should ask follow up questions post-application

Following up with applicants after they've submitted their initial application is a good way to verify the information they provided and clarify any uncertainties. For example, if there’s a gap in a tenant's resident history, you can take this opportunity to ask why. Or if you need to decide between two really great applicants, you can ask them questions to gauge their communication skills and long-term goals, and clarify if they can meet expectations related to the property. While an in-person interview is strongly suggested because you can get to know the applicant on a more personal level, you can also speak with them over the phone or reach out via email before making your final decision.

Here are a few questions worth asking post-application:

  • Can you provide references from your previous landlords?
  • What is the earliest date you can move in?
  • Can you offer additional information about your employment stability and long-term plans?
  • Is there any additional detail you can share about your rental history that wasn't included in your application?
  • Is there anything important about your circumstances or rental preferences that you think I should know?
  • Do you have any specific questions or concerns about the property or lease terms that haven't been addressed yet?

Closing thoughts

Screening tenants may add some time to the rental process, but the extra effort could save you much more in the long run by helping you secure dependable and trustworthy tenants. By asking the right questions throughout every stage of the screening process, you’ll be able to choose the tenants best suited for your properties. 

RentSpree can take the guesswork out of the tenant screening process so you know exactly who you’re renting to. Our tenant screening service is free for property representatives and is accurate and easy to use. Ready to see it in action? Get started here


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