It’s no news to you that your rental property is a big investment, and as with all big investments, you have to be extremely careful about who you entrust it to.
If you decide to invest in the stock market, for example, you’re likely going to do your due diligence and conduct a copious amount of research before you commit to investing your hard earned money.
By looking at past and present trends, company information, and other factors, you can get a good grasp of how a stock will perform for you. But remember, there is always going to be some uncertainty and variables outside of your control that may affect the investment as well.
The same goes for owning rental real estate.
You may choose to hire a professional Property Management Company to handle all aspects of your property, including screening all potential Tenants.
But, you might also decide to self-manage. And to perform your due diligence, you need to screen potential Tenants thoroughly. There are various ways you can do this such as background check, credit report, Landlord references, etc.
But before all that, by simply conducting a series of pre-screening questions, almost like an interview, you can get a good feel for the individual before they even see the property.
That, in turn, can save you, and the potential Tenant, a lot of time, trouble and money. Again, you are essentially giving complete control of your investment over to the Tenant when they take up residency in your property. In order to obtain the highest performance possible, you need to do everything you can to ensure you place a qualified, responsible individual in your property.
We’ve put together a list of questions that you should consider asking every potential applicant before they schedule a showing. While asking every single one of these questions might be overkill, we encourage you to read through them and choose several that you ask each time someone wants to see your rental home.
10 Pre-Screening Questions to Ask Before Showing Your Indianapolis Rental Property
What is your total, gross household monthly income?This is an obvious and important question to ask, but the key here is to establish your comfort level with income as it relates to monthly rent. Most Landlords want to see between 3 - 3.5 times the monthly rent in gross, monthly income.
So, if your property rents for $1,000 per month, your target for total household income is at least $3,000 - $3,500 each month.
2. Do you know your credit score?
Credit score is a good indication of how well your prospects pays their debts. Again, establish your comfort level and stick with it. If you peg 600 as your minimum credit score and the applicant reports they have a 575, it’s a no-go.
3. How many people will be living in the home with you?
Per Fair Housing, you cannot ask about the applicant’s children because that falls under the category of familial status. However, you can and should ask how many people will be occupying the home as the HUD’s general guidelines allow for 2 people per bedroom.
Note: There are some areas of the country that are now allowing for a greater concentration of people per bedroom. Some of this is based on the square footage or specific rooms that a home may offer.
For example, in some areas, you may have to allow for 3 people in a one bedroom apartment if the apartment has adequate square footage, or a dining area that could be used as a bedroom. Please consult with your local landlord’s association or attorney before determining your occupancy standards.
4. What pets do you have?
When asking this question, it’s important to phrase it in an open-ended way, meaning the Tenant cannot answer it ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This typically encourages a more honest answer as opposed to asking “Do you have any pets?” because they may think that answering ‘yes’ will automatically disqualify them.
Related: Should I Allow Pets in My Indianapolis Rental Property?
For liability purposes, you may also consider adopting an aggressive breed dog list and not allow those animals.
5. How many evictions have been filed upon you?
This is an important question to ask and it’s just as important that you ask it the right way. Some people think that having an eviction filed on them and actually being evicted (removed) from the property are two different things. From a Landlord’s perspective, both situations indicate irresponsible behavior and you don’t want to deal with this headache. Even if a Tenant argues their eviction was ‘dismissed’, they may not be a good candidate.
Tip: It’s good practice to establish a time frame when considering evictions. For example, you may choose to not rent to anyone who has been evicted within the past 5 years.
6. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
You will obviously be able to obtain this information from a background check, but by asking beforehand you will be able to see if they are honest or not. Like evictions, you may choose to not rent to someone who has recent felonies, or possibly not rent to anyone if convicted of certain crimes.
Note: Recent rulings in Fair Housing cases have had significant impact on how Landlords should treat applicants with criminal records. Generally, it is now considered a violation of Fair Housing if you refuse to rent to anyone with any type of criminal record. Here's a link to a good article with helpful recommendations.
7. Are you currently in bankruptcy?
You want to avoid anyone that is currently in an open bankruptcy. If you enter into a lease agreement with an open bankruptcy, the Tenant could claim their rental debt as part of the bankruptcy, which obviously isn’t a good scenario.
8. Have you any unpaid rental debt?
Again, you’ll find out this information when you are conducting your rental history search (and possibly when obtaining the credit report) but it gives you the chance to see if the Tenant is an honest person.
Unpad rental debt is obviously not a good thing, and you should require for the Tenant to pay it in full before proceeding with the application.
9. When would you like to move in?
The answer to this question will be able to tell you a lot about the Tenant and whether or not you want to start a long-term relationship with him/her. If they answer the question with ‘as soon as possible’, or ‘today’, then that should raise a red flag.
Desiring such a quick move-in date could mean they are being evicted, they don’t plan very well, they were asked to leave, or some other reason that most likely isn’t to your benefit.
Vice versa, if it’s January and they want to move-in sometime in April that doesn’t bode well for you either. That means your property will be sitting vacant all that time while you’re holding it for the Tenants. It’s definitely NOT worth your time and will cost you a fortune.
Our policy is that Renters must take possession of the home within 45 days of it becoming available.
10. Are you prepared to pay the security deposit of (Amount) and first month’s rent upon move-in?
It’s important to ensure that the applicant is aware of what they will be expected to pay before they take possession of the home. If they ask for more time to pay or if they can pay in installments, your answer should always be no. If they can’t pay everything up front, then that speaks to their financial situation and you should keep looking for a more eligible candidate.
Landlord Tip: You should NEVER charge less than one month’s rent for the security deposit.
Implementing Your Pre-Screening Process
The first thing you must remember when screening potential tenants is this: Be Consistent.
In order to ensure you are complying with Fair Housing guidelines, you need to ask the same questions, the same way, every time.
Do not formulate Pre-Screening questions around these topics:
- National origin
It’s also a good idea to have a list of renter requirements, somewhere in writing, that you feel will protect you and your investment and will provide clear expectations to possible applicants. If you have a website, be sure to include a page dedicated to your qualifications.
If it’s a word document or PDF type file, make sure you clearly indicate the date that it was created and change the effective date whenever you make changes or updates to your requirements.
This will help protect you in the event that an applicant files a lawsuit for discrimination or some other complaint.
Some good requirements to include are:
- Minimum credit score
- Monthly income requirement
- Pet policy
- Landlord references
- Work history, pay stubs, etc.
The Tenant you choose to rent your property can make your life easy as pie, or a living nightmare.
Obviously there’s no way to predict every scenario and, if you are a Landlord long enought, you will more than likely end up going through an eviction at some point. But having a thorough Tenant screening process in place is one of the best tools you can employ to help make your investment experience a positive one.