tenant interview questions

Tenant Interview Questions – How to Screen a Renter

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, we will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Welcome back to Our Two Family house!  Today our post will be about tenant interview questions.  

If you are a landlord in an owner-occupied home, you know that you will eventually need to screen a tenant or group of tenants.  And, if you are a successful and sane landlord of an owner-occupied home, you will know that tenant choice can make or break your house hacking experience.

How do you choose the right tenant?

It all comes down to the tenant interview.  

We will explore the tenant screening process that we use here at OTF, and then send you off with a nice, shiny PDF version of our go-to tenant interview questions.

Let’s go!

Before the Interview: Tenant Screening Checklist

Before a potential tenant even comes to view the apartment, our realtor begins with a simple pre-screening.  His checklist looks like this:

  1. Income
  2. Credit

Income: does the renter make enough money (general rule of thumb: monthly income 3x the rent) to afford the apartment?  

Credit: Does the tenant have a (580+) good credit score?

Our realtor will ask potential renters about their income and credit, and only after sufficiently answering do they get to view the apartment in person. If they don’t pass this little inspection, our realtor saves everybody time and doesn’t give them a showing.

Before the Interview: Tenant Application

After viewing the apartment, the renters can then apply with our realtor’s very thorough paper application. This includes running a credit history and a criminal background check.

Our realtor will also present to us any applications that have come through other realtors.  These other applicants may or may not have passed a pre-screen; he can’t control that.  

Once we review all applicants (this past February 2024, we had 8 in a week!), we narrow it down to 1 or 2 applicants for an interview.  

renter screening process

Our Go-to Tenant Interview Questions

Here’s the list you’ve been waiting for.  These are our top tenant screening questions. As the conversation progresses, we skip or elaborate as we see fit.  

You may notice that these are open-ended questions, as opposed to narrow or yes/no questions.  That is designed on purpose – it allows the tenant to elaborate as they see fit.  You never know what you might learn by asking an open question.  

One other note: Some of these questions may have been answered on a paper application.  We always repeat the questions that are important to us (smoking & pets, for example), regardless of the application.  This is to see the renter’s reaction – in other words, to double check they told the truth.  

This is not an exhaustive list of prospective tenant interview questions.  We also don’t ask every single question, either. It’s simply a bouncing-off point, a little diving board to get the conversation going.  It allows tenants to ask questions like, “How many parking spaces,” and simultaneously allows us to ask questions that reveal potential red flags.

You’ll know as you go along if the potential renter is a good fit for your place or not.  

List of Tenant Interview Questions

  1. What is your desired move-in date?
  2. What is your current living situation?
  3. Why are you moving?
  4. Does your current landlord know you are moving?  
  5. (If a couple or a group of people) How do you know each other?
  6. Who else will be living with you?  
  7. Do you have frequent overnight guests?  
  8. Do you smoke?  Vape?  Do you do drugs?  Marijuana?
  9. Do you have pets?
  10. Have you ever broken a rental agreement?  
  11. Describe your typical day-to-day routine.
  12. What are your weekends like?
  13. If I called your previous two landlords, what would they say?
  14. Are you working from home or in person?
  15. Any guesses on your plans for the next three years?  
  16. Do you have any questions for us?  About the neighborhood?  About the property?

What Do Landlords Look For in Tenants?

I can answer this by telling you simply: we are looking for a tenant who will pay on time and not damage our house.  It’s that simple.  

Every landlord will have a different version of what these things mean, but for us, we look for reliable income and credit history.   

As for “don’t break my house,” we choose to avoid renters with pets, people who smoke, and folks that we get the feeling might throw crazy parties and use closet doors as beer pong tables.  We accept that normal wear and tear happens—kids color with crayons on stuff, TV brackets put holes in the walls, whatever.  But here I’m talking about how we look for the big glaring potential for destruction of a house and we steer clear.  

So, tenants: pay your bills, and don’t break my house.  

What Questions Can You Not Ask a Potential Tenant?

There are certain questions you cannot ask tenants due to fair housing laws.

To keep your butt covered (read: not sued), consult your realtor or lawyer.  We also highly recommend you acquire a copy of Every Landlord’s Legal Guide

If you are not an owner-occupant, you probably have more restrictions than we do.  Because we live in our rental building of less than 3 units in New Jersey, we have a bit more leeway than those who don’t owner-occupy or who have commercial buildings.   

Questions to Ask Potential Tenants’ References

Before you call up your potential tenants’ references, be sure you have a full understanding of why they are leaving their previous rental.  

If your prospective tenant and their landlord are on bad terms, don’t expect anything useful in their answers.  If the previous landlord is trying to get rid of these tenants because something went wrong, they might not tell the truth. Why? So that they can be rid of the bad renter faster!

Also, be advised that their current landlord might not even know that they’re leaving.  We lived this phone call, and it was not a pleasant conversation.  

Solution: Don’t call their current landlord.  Call their second-to-last landlord.  

If you do speak to a tenant’s landlord reference, here are some useful questions.  

Did the tenants pay rent on time?  What were the biggest challenges you had with these tenants?  Be brief.  

Final Thoughts on Tenant Interview Questions

That’s all we have for you about interviewing your next tenant.  The rental application process can be hairy and stressful for all parties, but with thorough communication, you will get through it!

Just be honest, clear, and up-front.  Go with your gut – it will not fail you!  

Hopefully, these tenant interview questions have provided a basis to help find your best possible tenant!  

You May Also Like:

Similar Posts