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How To Screen Tenants | Questions For Potential Renters


Becoming a landlord requires mastering several skills. One of them involves knowing how to screen tenants | landlord questions to ask potential renters. 

Known as the tenant screening process which weeds out bad tenants and finds good ones.

Before getting into what questions to ask in order to screen tenants it’s important to know what is a good tenant?


A Good Tenant


Good tenants become long-term renters always paying fully and promptly. And, not causing problems for you and your property.

The best tenants possess these traits:

  • Good credit score;
  • Monthly income at three times to rental rate;
  • Steady employment history;
  • Clean eviction report; and
  • Great references.

Some real estate experts advise posting your leasing criteria with your vacancy ads. Also, include your pet policies too. Hopefully, ad readers who don’t meet your criteria won’t reply to your ad.

Thus, you get a smaller yet qualified number of prospective tenants which saves you time.

After getting more qualified applicants you schedule property tours. This allows you to ask more questions face to face. Also, this helps you to learn more about who these applicants are.

Since you want the best tenants for your rentals the following questions help you to screen out the bad applicants.


How to Screen Tenants / Landlord Questions to Ask Potential Renters


How to screen tenants requires keeping in mind the above list of the best tenant traits. Thus, your ideal tenant possesses:

  • Good credit score;
  • Maintains a monthly income at least three times your rent;
  • Steady employment history;
  • Clean eviction report; and
  • Good references from past landlords.

 Now, here are the questions to ask:


When do you want to move in?


Some qualified tenants can move in right away. But, others might have to give their current landlord at least 30 days’ notice. Or, need to start a new job at a later date.

This first question saves you lots of time asking the other questions. It determines whether the timeline fits your criteria. If the answer doesn’t fit don’t waste any more of your time with the tour.


Why are you moving?


Learn about the reasons why applicants move. This question leads to past evictions, inability to keep a job, or other past issues.

Good answers include outgrowing their current apartment or wanting to reduce their work commute. However, don’t take the applicant’s word at face value. Follow up with past landlords reference checks to ensure not renting to an unstable tenant who doesn’t pay rent on time or recently evicted.


How long you lived in your current home?


Asking about the duration of current and past residencies leads to knowing about their stability. Applicants moving often means a lack of long-term tenancy.

Unless you seek a short term rental, you should prefer long-term renters to avoid vacancies and the expenses of fixing up the rental unit for future tenants and advertising.


What is your monthly income?


A recent study showed that most landlords fear payment problems with new tenants.

Real estate experts advise monthly income equaling more than three times the rent. This allows tenants enough money to spend on other necessities with room for emergencies like medical expenses and car repairs.

Get pay stubs or other documents proving monthly income. Also, check out employment references. A useful tool called “Income Insights” analyzes a tenant’s income based on their credit history.   

Do you have pets?


If you don’t accept animals a “yes” answer to this question eliminates the applicant.

On the other hand, if you accept pets with restrictions on size, number, or type of pets let the applicant know. Also, it’s the perfect time to bring up any pet fees or deposits you require for keeping pets.

Asking this question early saves you time from continuing the tour and posing more questions.


How many people will live in my property?


This makes sure your unit contains enough bedrooms for everyone. Four friends wanting to live in your one-bedroom apartment makes no sense.


Any smokers amongst them?


Smokers cause extensive property damage. While you may not get an honest answer look for signs of a smoker like the smell on their clothing or a pack of cigarettes in a pocket.

A perfect time to bring up your smoking policy in your lease agreement. Also, to explain the penalties in the agreement if a tenant takes up smoking.


Ever evicted?


How to screen tenants thoroughly helps to answer this question. Asking the applicant in person allows an explanation of the circumstances.

Research by TransUnion showed past evictions often predict future evictions. Here

Proceed with caution when learning of past evictions. But, if the explanation satisfies you along with current financial stability and other good traits you may decide to accept the applicant.


Ever convicted of a relevant crime?


The term “relevant” means the importance to a landlord. Obviously, theft, scams, vandalism, and crimes relevant towards paying rent and maintaining your property in good order means a lot to you.

Violent crimes convictions also show the tenant’s character.

Yet, some past crimes no longer criminal in many states (like California) such as marijuana possession may not impact your decision to rent. However, a marijuana smoker may violate your smoking policy.

Regarding criminal convictions of potential tenant applicants in California, follow these rules:


Never Discriminate


Rejecting applicants for any criminal conviction amounts to “arbitrary” discrimination. To stay legal, you must show specific past criminal convictions that affect the tenant’s ability to comply with the lease agreement.

Also, if the tenancy creates a direct threat to the health and safety of other residents. Certain crimes present such a threat like arson, assault, burglary, drug dealing, and sex offenses.


Drug Use and Non-Convictions


It’s illegal to refuse to rent to an applicant because of past drug use in California. But, drug dealing and drug manufacturing present a threat to other residents.

California laws also prevent including arrests, misdemeanors not resulting in convictions, indictments, and crimes older than seven years by consumer reporting agencies.




A 2018 California State Supreme Court ruling requires all landlords to follow the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA). Landlords need to get the applicant’s permission and signature to conduct a criminal background check.


Consistent Application of Standards


Fair Housing laws prevent landlords from accepting one ex-offender but rejecting others for the same conviction. If you do one criminal background check on an applicant you must ask all applicants for permission.


Ever Broken a Rental Agreement?


Aside from an eviction, an applicant who broke past rental agreements by leaving early need clarification. Circumstances like moving out early due to unruly neighbors or new construction structural problems may amount to good reasons.

Yet, past broken rental agreements indicate the refusal of the former landlord to allow an early move. Contacting the past landlord about these circumstances becomes important.




Knowing how to screen tenants | landlord questions to ask potential renters increases your chances for better tenants.

Of course, more questions to ask tenant applicants in California exist. But, always include the 10 questions listed above.

Knowing what a good tenant means to you requires asking the right questions. Also, including some of your good tenant criteria when posting vacancy ads weeds out bad applicants.

As long as you get honest answers to your most important questions you save time finding good tenants.


A Better Way to Save Time 


But, if you don’t want to spend the time it takes to advertise, interview applicants, and give tours of your rentals, let a professional do it for you.

WeLease offers San Diego landlords professional tenant advertising and screening services.

Contact Us to find out how much time we save you with filling vacancies.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger


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