Questions a landlord should and should not ask a prospective tenant

As a landlord, you need to know as much about your tenant as possible, so you need to ask the right questions. But beware; asking the wrong questions can land you in a heap of trouble.

landlord questions
This post is intended to help landlords, especially new landlords, understand what questions they should be asking and which ones they should avoid act all costs.

We are living through interesting times, to say the least. Being a landlord is both an exciting business venture and not without its fair share of risk. Perhaps the biggest risk you face is your tenant.

What are the criteria for your ideal tenant?

Deciding on whether a prospective tenant is the right fit for your rental property can be a challenge. You might be engaged in the landlord business as an investment or simply for one extra disposable income, but it’s important to remember that it’s still your property. Whether you have acquired it because you have some extra cash to invest, or perhaps as part of a ‘buy-to-let’ scheme, you are responsible for the property and its upkeep. The point is, at some level, it is personal to you and should things go wrong, the costs (to varying degrees) will be yours to bear.

To start off, it’s a good idea to write down the criteria you think your ideal tenant should fulfill. These might include the following:

  • A good tenant track record
  • A solid job, steady employment history
  • An income that is a good multiple of the monthly rent
  • A good credit score
  • A stable lifestyle
  • Pets / no pets?
  • Good employer references

It’s also a good idea to be realistic too, but how realistic you need to be is going to depend on how urgent it is to find a tenant. Tradeoffs are inevitable, but something that should be carefully thought through and checked out.

In search of the ideal tenant, it can be easy to stray into grey or even taboo areas of questioning, sometimes quite innocently, while getting the prospective tenant. Sometimes just showing interest in a person’s beginnings can land you in trouble, especially if a likely tenant is sensitive to such questions.

  1. Avoid asking questions about a tenant’s place of birth, as these can be viewed as discriminatory.
  2. Don’t ask if a tenant has kids.
  3. Avoid questions that hide their real intent, such as asking about local amenity needs – e.g. churches, mosques, etc.
  4. Don’t ask about criminal convictions
  5. Marital status
  6. Age-related questions
  7. Disability needs
  8. Direct questions regarding your cash situation
  9. Service animals

While some of these look like legitimate questions, such as inquiring about special needs, such as service animals, etc., they could be viewed as discriminatory.

How can you ask the right questions?

The best questions to ask, are those that you don’t have to ask, if that makes sense. In other words, what a prospective tenant says or doesn’t say, can speak volumes as to whether they are going to make a suitable tenant for you.

Genuine tenants are not going to want to hide basic information essential to your decision-making process. There is a level of ‘openness’ that is reasonable to expect. Any prospect that appears over defensive and offers limited information is probably one you should avoid.

Getting a prospective tenant to talk about themselves and their circumstances openly is the best policy. At the end of the day, if as a landlord, you are managing the property yourself, you need to have a friendly working relationship with your tenant. The information offered openly is not only the safest way to interview a tenant, but also shows a level of engagement that may be important in maintaining a good working relationship.

As always though, beware those who appear overly-talkative. They may be naturally so, but sometimes this can be a warning sign, as they may be trying to deceive you.

Natural conversation trigger questions for tenants

All prospective tenants are going to expect some line of questioning when they meet the landlord. Asking genuine questions that show interest in the tenant but with our raising the spectre of potential discrimination, is the best policy. These are typically ‘open questions’, questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no, and ideally prompt the prospect into talking about themselves. Here are several such questions:

What’s the reason for your move? A genuine question that is designed to break the ice and get them talking about them.

What are you looking for in an ideal rental? An open question to get them talking and offer information.

What is it about this area that attracts you? By asking this, you may find out about other attributes of their lifestyle that may be desirable or less so.

How long have you been renting? It may be useful to probe a little further and find out if renting is their preference over buying, as this helps provide an insight into somebody’s personal circumstances and motivations without asking them directly.

Have you rented in this area before, are you familiar with this area? This may help ascertain if they are likely to stick around and how long they may actually rent for, especially if they have family in the area, which may also be the information they offer.

How many other properties have you viewed so far? This helps to determine how far they are down the path in finding a new place, or, if they have viewed a lot, prompting a discussion about what they are really looking for, as it may be unreasonable and a waste of time.

How comparable have you found the rents in the local area? This may tease out information as to whether the prospect has found something particularly attractive already.

What kind of work do you do? Are you enjoying it? A happy employee is a stable employee, at least from their perspective. There’s nothing much you can do about their employer, although a quick check on the company at Company House will give you an idea as to its size and if you can read a balance sheet, it’s relative stability. You can also do a Google search on the company to see if there is any negative news on it.

  1. Questions that are a little more direct but perfectly legitimate include:
  2. How long are you looking to rent?
  3. Where do you work?
  4. Will your previous landlord provide a written reference?
  5. Will your employer provide a reference?
  6. Have you ever broken a rental agreement?
  7. What is your income?

Genuine people give genuine responses

It may seem obvious, but where people are concerned, being honest and genuine with a project will likely illicit is a similar response in the kind of tenant you are looking for. If you notice barriers going up for the most innocent of questions, then you probably have the answer you are looking you need.

We hope that this short post has helped you in thinking about the meeting you have with your next prospective tenant. At Romain Coleman, we specialise in assisting Landlords with rental difficulties, so please bear us in mind should you experience problems with a tenant.