Questions To Ask Tenants & The Importance Of Screening Properly
Questions to ask tenants is a fundamental prerequisite for any landlord or property manager. Finding the “right” tenant for your rental property is essential for a successful and stress-free renting experience.
So, it probably goes without saying, but conducting a thorough tenant screening process is the key to choosing responsible and reliable individuals. You want to find people who will take care of your property and meet their rental obligations.
One of the most critical aspects of tenant screening is asking the right questions during the application process. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore all the questions you should ask a potential tenant for your rental property to make an informed decision and protect your investment.
As a landlord, it’s important to screen potential tenants to ensure they are a good fit for your property. The best way to do this is by asking the right questions during the application process. And, as a word of caution, there are some things you can ask about, as well as other things you can’t (head the bottom for those).
In this article, we’ll explore the most important questions to ask a prospective tenant before renting to them.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – THEIR PERSONAL INFORMATION
Begin by gathering essential personal information from the potential tenant to conduct a background check and verify their identity. The information you should ask for includes:
a. Full Name: Request the applicant’s full legal name to match it against their identification documents.
b. Date of Birth: Ask for the applicant’s date of birth to verify their age and comply with age-related rental laws.
c. Contact Information: Obtain the applicant’s current address, phone number, and email address for communication purposes.
d. Social Insurance Number (SIN): While it’s not mandatory, asking for a SIN can help verify the applicant’s identity and credit history.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – THEIR RENTAL HISTORY
Understanding a potential tenant’s rental history is crucial to gauge their behavior as a previous renter. Ask the following questions to gather rental history information:
a. Current and Previous Addresses: Inquire about the applicant’s current and previous addresses to track their rental history.
b. Reason for Moving: Ask the applicant why they are leaving their current residence or why they left previous rentals to gain insight into their stability as a tenant.
c. Landlord References: Request contact information for the applicant’s current and previous landlords to seek references and feedback on their tenancy.
d. Rental Periods: Inquire about the length of time the applicant has lived at each address to determine if they have a history of long-term or short-term tenancy.
e. Rental Payments: Ask about the applicant’s rental payment history, including whether they made on-time payments and if there were any issues with late payments.
Why Should You Find Out If They’ve Rented Before?
Asking about a prospective tenant’s rental history can give you insight into their past behavior as a tenant. Ask about their previous landlords and whether they can provide references. If a tenant has a history of late rent payments or property damage, it may be a red flag.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – THEIR EMPLOYMENT AND INCOME
A tenant’s ability to afford rent is a critical consideration. Obtain information about the applicant’s employment status and income to assess their financial stability.
a. Employment Status: Ask whether the applicant is currently employed, self-employed, or unemployed.
b. Employer Information: Request the name, address, and contact information of the applicant’s current employer.
c. Income Verification: Inquire about the applicant’s monthly or annual income to verify if it meets your rental income requirements.
d. Employment History: Ask about the applicant’s employment history, including the length of time with their current employer and any previous jobs.
e. Other Sources of Income: Find out if the applicant receives any additional sources of income, such as government assistance or investment income.
Essentially, what you need and want to know is –
Can they afford the rent? One of the most important questions to ask a prospective tenant is whether they can afford the rent. Ask for proof of income, such as pay stubs or a job offer letter, to ensure they earn enough to cover the rent and other expenses. Consider a rent-to-income ratio of no more than 30% to ensure the tenant can comfortably afford the rent.
And, do they have a steady income to support the rent? Steady income is important for a tenant’s ability to pay rent on time. Ask about their employment history and whether they have a steady income source. Consider asking for references from their employer to verify their income and employment status.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – THEIR FINANCIAL AND CREDIT HISTORY
Understanding a potential tenant’s financial situation is crucial to assess their ability to pay rent consistently. Ask the following questions to gather financial and credit history information:
a. Credit Check Consent: Request the applicant’s consent to conduct a credit check to assess their creditworthiness.
b. Credit Score: Ask the applicant if they are aware of their current credit score, which can provide an initial indication of their financial responsibility.
c. Outstanding Debts: Inquire about any outstanding debts the applicant may have, such as credit card balances or student loans.
d. Bankruptcy or Foreclosure: Ask if the applicant has ever filed for bankruptcy or experienced a foreclosure, as this can impact their credit history.
e. Financial Reserves: Find out if the applicant has savings or financial reserves that can serve as a safety net in case of unexpected expenses.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – IF THEY HAVE ANY CRIMINAL HISTORY
As a landlord, it’s essential to prioritize the safety and security of your property and other tenants. While you cannot discriminate based on criminal history, you can ask about the applicant’s criminal background to ensure a safe living environment for all residents.
a. Criminal Convictions: Inquire about any criminal convictions the applicant may have, specifying that you will conduct a background check to verify the information.
b. Rental History with Criminal Activity: Ask if the applicant has ever been evicted or had rental agreements terminated due to criminal activity.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – PET OWNERSHIP, OTHER OCCUPANTS & SMOKING
If you have specific rules regarding pets or occupancy limits, clarify them with potential tenants by asking the following questions:
a. Pet Ownership: Find out if the applicant has pets, and if so, inquire about their size, breed, and behaviour to ensure they comply with your pet policies.
If you allow pets in your rental property, it’s important to ask about the type and number of pets the tenant has. Consider asking for references from previous landlords regarding the tenant’s pet behavior. You may also want to ask about any additional pet deposits or fees.
b. Additional Occupants: Ask how many people will be living in the rental unit and inquire about their ages and relationship to the applicant.
Knowing how many people will be living in the rental property can help you ensure the property is not overcrowded. Consider a maximum occupancy limit based on the size of the property and the number of bedrooms.
c. Smoking Policy: If you have a strict no-smoking policy, clarify it BUT you can’t actually ask them if they smoke (see more below). If you have a non-smoking policy for your rental property, consider asking about any smoking-related damages in their previous rentals and whether they are willing to comply with a non-smoking policy.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TENANTS – WHAT THEIR RENTAL REQUIREMENTS ARE
Clearly communicate your rental requirements to potential tenants to ensure they understand and meet your criteria. Ask the following questions to ensure they are a good fit for your property:
a. Preferred Move-In Date: Inquire about the applicant’s desired move-in date to determine if it aligns with your property’s availability.
b. Rental Term: Ask how long the applicant plans to rent the property to ensure it aligns with your lease agreement terms.
c. Furnished or Unfurnished: Clarify whether the rental property is furnished or unfurnished to set expectations.
d. Tenant Responsibilities: Inform the applicant of any specific tenant responsibilities, such as lawn maintenance or utility payments, and ask if they are willing to comply.
HOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM YOUR POTENTIAL TENANTS
Encourage potential tenants to ask questions about the property or rental agreement to ensure they fully understand the terms and conditions.
a. Invite Questions: At the end of the conversation or application, ask if the applicant has any questions or concerns about the property or rental process.
b. Provide Information: Be prepared to answer questions about the property’s amenities, neighborhood, or any specific lease clauses.
VERIFYING DOCUMENTATION AND IDENTIFICATION
Once you have asked the questions above, it’s essential to verify the information provided by potential tenants and request necessary documentation.
a. Identification: Request a copy of the applicant’s government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, to confirm their identity.
b. Proof of Income: Ask for proof of income, such as pay stubs or bank statements, to verify the applicant’s financial ability to pay rent.
c. References: Contact the applicant’s provided landlord references to obtain feedback on their rental history.
Asking for references from previous landlords or employers can give you valuable insight into a prospective tenant’s behavior and reliability. Consider contacting these references to ask about the tenant’s rental history and any issues they may have had.
d. Credit Check: Obtain the applicant’s consent to run a credit check to assess their creditworthiness.
e. Background Check: Conduct a background check to ensure the applicant has no significant criminal history that could pose a safety risk.
In addition, questions to ask tenants may also include if they’ve ever been evicted. If a prospective tenant has been evicted in the past, it may be a red flag. Consider asking if they have ever been evicted and the reason for the eviction. It’s important to carefully consider the tenant’s explanation and the circumstances surrounding the eviction.
So what CAN’T you ask a potential tenant?
Questions a landlord cannot ask
Landlords cannot ask you personal questions that interfere with your rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Therefore, questions about age, disability, place of origin, religion, family status, sexual orientation, gender expression and other Human Rights grounds are not allowed.
They cannot ask question such as:
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you plan to have (more) children?
- Are you married, single, or divorced?
- What is your ethnic background or religion?
- What is your sexual orientation?
- Do you receive public assistance?
- How old are you?
- Are you a Canadian citizen?
- Do you smoke?
Note: While a landlord is not allowed to ask if you smoke they can still provide you a lease that states that the property you are renting is non-smoking. If you sign a non-smoking lease they cannot immediately evict you for smoking. If you break the non-smoking clause you will likely receive warnings before an eviction notice.
Questions to ask tenants is important, I can’t stress this enough!
Asking the right questions and conducting a thorough tenant screening process is crucial for finding the right tenant for your rental property in Canada. By gathering essential personal information, assessing rental history, understanding financial stability, and considering other relevant factors, you can make an informed decision that protects your investment and fosters a positive landlord-tenant relationship.
Remember to treat all applicants fairly and equally while adhering to applicable laws and regulations throughout the tenant screening process. Taking the time to find responsible and reliable tenants will contribute to a successful and rewarding rental experience for both parties involved.
Screening potential tenants is an important part of being a landlord. Asking the right questions can help you identify potential red flags and ensure you find a tenant who is a good fit for your rental property. By asking about the tenant’s ability to afford the rent, their rental history, pets, smoking habits, and references, you can make an informed decision when selecting a tenant. One tool you can also consider is called SingleKey.
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