The Tenant Screening Interview: What to Ask and What Not to Ask

BY: HOUSERIE 11/08/2017

Running credit and criminal background checks, as well as following up on references, can help you determine who could be a responsible renter. While these checks are essential parts of the tenant screening process, there is another component you should not take for forget: the tenant interview.

When and Why

Landlords should conduct an initial interview when they hear from an applicant. They can also pursue further questioning once they’ve met the interested party at a showing.

When you do the interview yourself, you’ll find that preliminary queries can give you a good sense of whether you should let someone continue an application. If the applicant makes it to the later stages of tenant screening you can recall and use your early impressions to reach a decision.

The Questions to Ask

Starting all interviews with these two questions may be obvious, but they can give a lot of practical insight:

  • Why do you want to move?
  • When do you plan to move in?

Asking somebody why they want to move allows you to determine whether the applicant has had good relationships with landlords and fellow tenants. If they answer, “My neighbors and I just couldn’t get along”, it might indicate future problems with other tenants and neighbors.

The answer about move-in dates can be just as telling. If an applicant seems to be scrambling for a new place and wants to move in immediately, you might wonder if he or she has given the previous landlord enough notice. Will you be dealing with the same problem when they leave your place?

Aside from asking a potential tenant what their income is and if they have a steady job, you should also ask questions that could indicate how well they will take care of their rental property:

  • How many people will be living with you?
  • Do you have any pets?

Multiple people and/or pets in a rental will most likely increase the wear and tear in the unit. More importantly, if you have already laid down the rules against overcrowding and animals, the answers to these questions will help you make a decision.

Finally, there are some essential questions that need to be asked and should always be part of the rental application process:

  • Will you consent to a criminal background and/or credit check?
  • Will you be able to pay the move-in costs (i.e. a security deposit and 1st month’s rent)?

Answering “no” to either one of these questions is a red flag!

The Questions to Avoid

Eemember The Fair Housing Laws prohibit queries that could seem discriminatory (or are discriminatory) and can vary from state to state.

By law, everyone should have a fair chance at renting a property. If anything in tenant screening should disqualify an applicant, it should be information like financial capacity or rental history – not that applicant’s race, color, national origin, sex/gender, familial status, or disability.

The Questions to Ask Everyone

Ultimately, you must ask every single applicant the same set of basic and unbiased questions. Doing so will not only put you on the right side of the Fair Housing Law; it will truly enable you to evaluate everyone on equal terms, and make the most out of tenant screening.

In the same spirit of fairness and responsibility, you should always ask an applicant if they have any questions for you. They deserve to learn more about the place they could be living in – and decide for themselves if they could be the right fit for you.


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