Prescreening Rental Prospects

Pre-screening rental prospects is a management practice that reduces the risk of installing a problem tenant. By prescreening a rental prospect at the point of first contact, a landlord can quickly determine if the prospect has a genuine interest in the offered rental. If the prospect expresses interest the landlord can conduct a brief interview to screen the prospect for a property showing and possible application. Questions asked during the prescreening interview help the landlord prequalify the prospect to the minimum screening requirements set by the landlord. Information provided by the landlord during the interview helps the prospect determine whether the rental will meet the prospect’s needs and wants. The prospect can self-qualify to the asking rents, property location, features, and amenities as the landlord details rental expectation and lease terms and conditions.

A prescreening interview is a separate screening in addition to tenant screenings conducted at application submission. Prescreening is conducted as a discovery tool to help the landlord understand the prospect’s situation and the prospect to learn more about the rental offering.

This first screening can save time and money for the landlord by eliminating prospects who don’t meet minimum screening criteria. The prospect saves time and money by knowing his qualification status and not having to pay the landlord’s application fee to find out he did not meet minimum screening requirements. The asking rent and move-in ready date are two primary qualifiers for landlord and prospect. If the prospect is unable to meet rents or cannot accept the unit ready date, the prospect will need to continue his rental search elsewhere.

For quality properties both a prospect and a landlord want to move quickly through the rental process to fill the vacancy. Since the initial contact between the landlord and a rental prospect could be as soon as the posting of a rental vacancy, it is important for the landlord to be prepared to respond to inquiries promptly in a professional manner. A favorable first impression of the landlord can be an influencing factor on a rental prospect’s decision to apply for tenancy.

To take advantage of the opportunity of using the rental listing to attract prospective tenants and act as a preliminary screening tool, the landlord will want to create interest in the vacancy by showcasing property features and amenities in the listing. However, the rental listing should prioritize basic rental information including required disclosures such as screening criteria and lease requirements to assist the prospect in evaluating rental properties in his search. Providing essential property information for property address and asking rents allows prospects to assess their interest in the property and to pre-qualify themselves using the rent price point. Those prospects reaching out to the landlord for more information provide an opportunity for the landlord to explain his application process and decisioning criteria which could lead to an application decision.

By prescreening prospects, the landlord can concentrate his time and effort on qualifying prospects who potentially have the minimum qualifications to move forward in the process. By preliminarily qualifying a prospect to minimum standards and confirming the prospect’s continuing interest in the application process the landlord can detail his application process, rental expectations, policies, and practices more fully to the prospect and encourage application submission. This full disclosure can be the influencing factor on the qualified prospect’s next step. The prospect can self-determine whether he now has sufficient interest to go forward in the application process. However, after learning more about the rental unit and the community, the prospect must still evaluate this information against his own rental criteria – his rental wants and needs. He may decide to continue his rental search elsewhere. In a brief interview, both landlord and prospect can reach a decision that is less costly in time, money, and effort rather than continuing an application process that was not mutually satisfactory.

As part of preparing to fill a vacancy and before posting a rental listing, a landlord should conduct due diligence to ensure compliance with current landlord-tenant laws applicable to his property and the local, state, and federal laws regarding fair housing, fair housing advertising and consumer protections.

Having set his screening criteria, the landlord is ready to screen prospects and advance those meeting minimum requirements to the next stage in the filling vacancy process. Prospects should be made aware of qualifying requirements such as:

  • Satisfactory credit report
  • Satisfactory background check
  • Proof of income
  • Employment verification
  • Positive rental housing history
  • Satisfactory landlord references
  • Satisfactory public records (No evictions, bankruptcies, liens, or judgments)

Prospects should also be made aware of other landlord requirements such as

  • Application fee due at application
  • Lease type – fixed term or month-to-month
  • Lease terms and conditions
  • Rents
  • Security deposit
  • Move-in fees
  • First month rent, security deposit, other fees and deposits required at lease signing
  • Income to Rent ratio
  • Animal policy
  • Smoking policy

Qualifying a rental prospect by asking the prospect a few important questions can quickly move the rental process forward. A landlord should have a standard set of questions to ask all prospective renters who contact him regarding a vacancy. Using a set of standardized questions will help avoid claims of discrimination by ensuring all prospects are asked the same questions in the same procedure. It is a good practice to begin the prescreening interview by asking the rental prospect what questions he has after reviewing the rental listing. Allowing the prospect to go first with his questions provides a landlord an opportunity to listen to what the prospect feels is important, what needs clarification, or what requires confirmation.

Documentation of all prospect contacts should be recorded in writing and doing so may help defend against claims of fair housing discrimination. Notation of the prospect’s responses may also prove useful to later compare with information in his application form.

How many questions should a landlord as prospect? Twenty questions may be too many questions and the prospect will likely lose interest and terminate the interview. Five questions may not be enough to make a clear determination of the prospect’s interest and qualifications. A landlord should keep in mind that the simple act of a prospect making first contact is a promising lead. If a landlord prioritizes listening to the prospect and asking prequalifying questions that confirm interest in a property showing and becoming a renter, a prospect is usually receptive to   learn more about the landlord’s rental requirements.

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