30 Tenant screening questions & how to run an interview: A property manager’s guide

Use these questions and best practices to strengthen your screening process without leaving yourself open to accusations of discrimination.
Minut News
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June 10, 2024
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 30 Tenant screening questions & how to run an interview: A property manager’s guide

Interviewing a prospective renter should be a simple, final step in the tenant screening process, but without a strict set of standardized questions, you could leave yourself open to accusations of discrimination that could place your entire property management business at risk.

Equally, if you fail to ask the right questions, you could end up proceeding with the lease agreement, despite serious, unaddressed issues, like incompatibility with property and HOA rules.

Therefore, you need a concrete process that ensures fairness and objectivity across all your tenant screening questions.

In this guide, you’ll see the advantages of a screening interview, a look at the pros and cons of managing them in person, the topics you need to avoid, and 30 screening questions across the following categories:

  • Logistics
  • Pets
  • Red flags and concerns
  • Lifestyle and property use
  • The application process and acceptance criteria

By taking onboard the insights in this guide and using the questions provided, you’ll gain valuable insights into each of your prospective tenants without compromising your compliance with fair housing laws or the integrity of your screening process.

What is tenant screening?

Tenant screening is an important element of the tenant application process, where you can perform multiple checks to assess the suitability of your prospective renter.

Your objective here is to assess the risk the tenant represents in terms of their ability to complete rental payments on time and to fulfill other obligations as set out in the lease agreement.

For example, lease agreement terms could include maintaining the property in good condition, adhering to specified noise regulations, and not smoking indoors.

Tenant screening typically incorporates both a tenant credit check and a tenant background check, which are normally performed using a tenant screening service and one of the three main credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.

You may also choose to conduct a tenant interview, which, if conducted correctly, will better inform your decision on whether to proceed with the tenant application and protect you from potential charges of discrimination should the application be rejected.

5 Benefits of interviewing prospective tenants

Interviewing tenants as part of your standard application process offers several advantages that go beyond basic screening and risk assessment:

  • Establishing rapport
    You can use a tenant screening interview to build trust and develop a positive tenant-landlord relationship.
  • Clarification of details
    Your background checks may have raised some issues you can address during the interview, where it’s possible to gain a fuller understanding of any discrepancies or red flags.
  • Provides an opportunity for tenant inquiries
    Tenants can ask questions and clarify any doubts they may have about the property or lease terms.
  • Expectation setting
    You can clearly communicate house rules, explain specific lease terms, and provide information about the property and neighborhood that helps avoid future misunderstandings.
  • You can find out about any specific tenant needs
    There may be special accommodations you can make that will help the tenant settle into the new property, such as accessibility features or additional furniture.

Should you conduct your interview in person? Pros and cons

For property managers with extensive portfolios, a scalable process that eliminates the need for in-person meetings may be more practical. 

However, an in-person interview will allow you to take advantage of some of the benefits described above, like establishing rapport, as well as giving you the chance to assess the renter up close, which could provide deeper insights into their personality and suitability.

That said, conducting interviews in person might influence your objectivity and potentially compromise the fairness of your screening process.

Therefore, whether you choose to interview your prospective tenant in person, via a phone call, or with an emailed form, you need a standardized set of screening questions you can consistently apply across every tenant application.

30 standard tenant screening questions to ask in your interview

The following tenant screening questions are organized into five separate categories so you can thoroughly assess prospective tenants and ensure your interview process is fair, transparent, and objective.

7 Tenant screening questions about renting logistics

Logistical questions help you understand the prospective tenant's needs and, should their application go smoothly, better plan and prepare the property for them. 

For example, you may find they’re vegan and, as a result, need certain furnishings, or they may have certain pieces of equipment they wish to install in or store at the property.

  1. What is your preferred move-in date?
  2. How long do you plan to rent the property?
  3. How many people will be living in the rental unit?
  4. Do you have any pets?
  5. Do you have any specific needs, such as accessibility features, childproofing, or particular furnishings?
  6. Do you have any specific parking requirements?
  7. What’s the best way to schedule our regular maintenance checks?

4 Questions about pets

If the tenant has pets, you may need to make special arrangements to ensure the property doesn’t experience excessive wear and tear. Equally, you may have concerns depending on the property type and local community rules.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, see our guide on pet screening.

  1. How many pets do you own?
  2. What size and breed are they?
  3. Are your pets fully house-trained?
  4. How well do your pets interact with other animals and people, including children?

9 Questions for addressing issues in background checks

When reviewing credit and background checks, certain red flags may arise that require further clarification. 

The following questions are intended to address specific concerns, though whether or not they’re applicable will depend on the results of your checks. 

It's important to note that some questions may not be permitted depending on local anti-discrimination measures and laws on tenant privacy rights.

  1. Can you explain any late payments or missed payments on your credit report?
  2. There are gaps in your employment history; can you provide more details about these periods?
  3. There is a record of an eviction in your background check. Can you explain the circumstances surrounding this eviction?
  4. Have you had any disputes with previous landlords, and how were they resolved?
  5. Can you provide more context about the incidents listed in your criminal history report?
  6. There are outstanding debts mentioned in your credit report. How are you managing these?
  7. Are there any current legal actions or judgments against you that we should be aware of?
  8. Can you explain any discrepancies or inconsistencies in your personal information or application details?
  9. Some of your references were difficult to contact. Can you provide alternative contacts who can vouch for your character and reliability?

6 Lifestyle and property-use questions

It's important to understand how the tenant’s behavior might impact the property and other residents. 

These questions will help you learn about the tenant's habits and assess their compatibility with any property or HOA rules.

  1. Do you smoke or have any members of your household who smoke?
  2. How often do you host gatherings or parties at home?
  3. Do you or your guests typically play loud music or engage in activities that might create excessive noise?
  4. Do you understand and accept the property’s noise regulations and quiet hours?
  5. Do you understand and accept all the other property and HOA rules?
  6. Do you have any questions or concerns about these?

4 Questions to clarify the application process and criteria

Some local laws stipulate that you must present the tenant with the selection criteria and the reasons why an application might be denied.

To help ensure you’ve done this effectively, you can ask these questions.

  1. Have you reviewed the tenant selection criteria provided with the rental application?
  2. Do you understand the reasons why an application might be denied?
  3. Do you have any questions about this process?
  4. Do you have any questions about the fees associated with your rental application?

What not to say or reference during your screening interview

Across different jurisdictions, there are multiple laws and regulations in place designed to ensure objectivity and fairness throughout the tenant screening process. 

If you fail to properly observe these protections, you could leave yourself open to legal challenges, discrimination lawsuits, and fines.

As a result, you should avoid the following topics:

  • The tenant's race, religion, or nationality
  • The tenant’s marital status or sexual orientation
  • The tenant’s disability status or medical conditions
  • Any comments or questions that could be perceived as discriminatory or invasive

Note that even a seemingly innocent inquiry into any of these areas could leave you legally compromised. 

For example, asking about a tenant's weekend activities could unintentionally reveal religious practices, which could then be perceived as discriminatory if the application is denied.

Likewise, if you wonder out loud where their accent is from, it could be interpreted as a question about their nationality or ethnic background, potentially leading to allegations of discrimination.

Fair and legally compliant tenant screening questions

By following these recommendations and utilizing our standard screening questions, you can help ensure a thorough and fair tenant screening process. 

This will help you select reliable tenants, minimize the risk of potential legal issues, and maintain consistency throughout all your property management practices.

To further protect your properties, community relationships, and property management business, consider implementing Minut’s standalone, privacy-safe sensor for monitoring noise, occupancy, and cigarette smoke.