Tenant Screening Interviews

Screening interviews are important to identify and qualify rental prospects for tenant selection in filling a vacancy. As relevant to the circumstances, a landlord could conduct more than one type of interview with prospects or tenants during the application process and tenancy. The following discussion is representative of screenings that could be conducted as part of a landlord’s best practices in property management.

Prescreening Interview

A prescreening interview is a separate interview from a tenant screening interview during the application process.

Prescreening rental prospects can identify potential tenants to fill a vacancy. Qualifying a rental prospect could begin as soon as the landlord is contacted regarding a posted vacancy listing.

Questions asked during a prescreening interview help the landlord prequalify the prospect to the landlord’s minimum screening requirements. Many prospects have questions to ask the landlord about rental policies and procedures for tenant qualification, selection, and residency. During the interview the prospect can determine if the unit meets his rental criteria and whether he will take the next step in the application process.

There are multiple ways a potential renter can learn of a unit vacancy. A prospect may contact the landlord in response to print/online media advertising, social media post, a referral from a satisfied tenant, “for rent” signage, an on-site visit, an open house showing, or other type of contact for information about a vacancy.

The questions that a landlord may ask during an interview with a prospect should be relevant to business purpose and compliant with applicable laws. A landlord should prepare a list of permissible screening questions to be ready for the first contact with a prospect. Using a set of standardized questions will help avoid claims of discrimination.

.Some common interview questions include:

  • Do you currently rent? How long have you lived there?
  • Why are you moving?
  • What is your planned move-in date?
  • Have you given notice to your landlord?
  • Will your landlord give you a good reference?
  • How many people will live in the unit?
  • What is your monthly income?
  • Will you be able to meet requirements for:
        • Security deposit, one month rent
        • Credit and background check
      • Will you comply with:
        • No smoking policy
        • Pet /animal policy

A landlord may want to document responses to his advertised vacancy by keeping a written record of inquiries received with brief but relevant information about the response to the vacancy listing. This aids the landlord in his marketing and advertising practices and can be an additional reference document if a prospect later decides to apply for tenancy.

Applicant Interview

Rental applications are the most efficient means to gather relevant background information about a prospective tenant to begin the rental qualification process. Customized to a landlord’s business requirements, the rental application form is a screening document that requests information about an applicant’s background, rental history, credit history, employment, and income.

A well-developed application form makes it easier for the applicant to furnish information in an organized manner. This in turn makes it simpler for a landlord to analyze and evaluate applicant information for potential business risk. A standardized format helps to ensure the screening process is conducted in a non-discriminatory manner. Every applicant should receive the same application form to be processed in the same manner according to rental practices.

The application form does not replace an applicant interview. The applicant interview is used to request additional information or clarify information as needed to evaluate the applicant’s rental qualifications.

Interview questions are developed to help the landlord determine if the potential tenant has the ability to meet rent obligations and would be likely to comply with rental rules and regulations. A rental application should be completed by every adult who intends to live in the rental unit.

A landlord must be knowledgeable of fair housing laws to understand what questions are permissible and what questions are not permissible during an interview.  Federal Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination against the protected classes of race, religion, national origin, sex, color, familial status, or disability. Many state and local fair housing laws have additional protected classes that are more stringent than federal fair housing law.

The interview is a time to confirm the applicant’s responses to the questions regarding the completed application form. By confirming the applicant responses, a landlord prepares for the verification process at the source document or source entity. While a landlord may want to get to know the applicant, it should be remembered that the landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship, contractual to specific duties and obligations. Questions asked must be relevant to business purpose and not stray into personal or non-essential topics. A professional working relationship between landlord and tenant will be a best practice for both landlord and tenant. A landlord should be clear in expectations for tenant duties and behavior and follow legal compliances for disclosures and notification to tenants per regulations and guidances.

Landlord Interviews

Conducting interviews with the previous landlord and past landlords is a tenant screening tool that provides direct information about a former tenant’s rental behaviors with landlords and neighboring tenants past rental history as documented by the landlords for timely rents, lease compliance, and maintaining the property in good condition provide a larger view of the tenant’s behaviors in a community setting.

Being organized with the rental application and a written list of questions will allow the landlord to conduct the interview in a professional business-like manner.

A customized rental references worksheet might ask questions such as:

  • When did the tenant’s lease begin and end?
  • What was the amount of monthly rent? What was the security deposit?
  • Did the tenant consistently pay the rent on time?
  • Did the tenant have roommates that contributed to the monthly rent?
  • Did the tenant take good care of the property? Did the tenant leave it clean at move-out?
  • Did the tenant cause disturbances or generate complaints from other tenants or property owners?
  • Were any legal notices for evictions served?
  • Was notice given per the lease agreement?
  • Was the full security deposit refunded?
  • Would the landlord rent to this tenant again?

Other Screening Interviews

A landlord may want to conduct interviews with personal references as provided by the applicant to gather additional information related to qualifying the applicant for selection to tenancy.

The landlord may require the applicant provide a co-signer to qualify for tenancy. The landlord will need to conduct his standard tenant screenings on the co-signer including the application interview.

Contacting employment references is usually verification of current employment. This type of contact/interview is to confirm employment history, wages/salary information, and expectations for continued employment.

Lease Renewal

Many fixed term lease agreements are for a term of one year. A tenant who qualified under the landlord’s rental standards a year ago may have had a change in regard to one or more of the landlord’s qualification criteria. If the landlord is considering offering an existing tenant a lease renewal, the landlord may conduct a screening interview to re-qualify the tenant to current rental standards.

Tenant Exit Interview

Some landlords have found that conducting a tenant exit interview at time of move-out can provide valuable feedback on property operations and rental practices. While information gained from the exit interview may be too late to retain that particular tenant, the information can be used to prevent a future tenant from experiencing the same or similar problem.

In developing questions for a tenant exit interview, a landlord is expanding on the standard question “why are you leaving?” Questions may include:

  • What is your primary reason for moving?
  • Are you moving to another rental community in the area?
  • How did you find your new place?
  • What did you like about living here?
  • Do you consider the rent a fair rent for this unit/area?
  • What could have been done to keep you as a tenant?

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