What to Ask on Your Rental Application

Most landlords have a lot of balls in the air. As a landlord, you’re keeping on top of maintenance, dealing with tenant issues, keeping your taxes straight, and managing a host of other issues. Some problems demand more attention than others, but you can minimize potential issues by asking the right questions on your rental application.

Using a rental application effectively

You probably already have a good an online rental application service, and that service will typically come with some standard questions for you to ask potential renters. This service takes a lot of the work out of going through applications.

But are you taking full advantage of all the service has to offer? One of the best things about automated online rental applications is the freedom to add extra questions that help you understand your potential tenants better.

Asking the right questions will streamline the acceptance process and get you started on the right foot with new renters. It will also save you time, which you can spend coordinating with your professional HVAC contractor, dealing with landscaping issues, or just taking off for yourself.

What questions should I be asking?

Here are a few important questions that will help you understand your applicants and cut down on wasted time and effort.

How long do you plan to live here?

As a landlord, two of your worst enemies are vacancy and turnovers. While anyone’s plans can change, this question allows you to get an idea of how long the tenant is thinking of staying. Anything less than a year is probably not worth your time.

Do you smoke?

This is a great question to ask. If you’re OK with smoking as long as tenants pay a larger deposit and a cleaning fee, knowing what to expect in advance is always a plus. If the tenant says no and then proceeds to smoke anyway, you’ll have no problems with evictions or with keeping the security deposit.

How many vehicles do you have?

While most singles have one and most families have two, you can never be sure. You don’t want to end up having constant problems with the neighbors because of all the cars in the driveway, on the street, or even in the yard.

What would stop you from paying rent on time?

Ideally, you want the answer here to be “nothing,” or possibly, “I’ve died.” If the answer is something else, take note. Things can always go wrong in anyone’s financial life, but you want some assurance that when there’s a financial crunch, paying the rent isn’t the first thing they’ll skip on.

Whom should I contact in an emergency?

This has two benefits. First, if there’s a medical or other emergency with your tenant, you know who to call. Second, if they stop paying rent, you have access to close friends or family members who might help you contact them and get them to fulfill their responsibilities.

How to Frame the Questions

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in framing questions is to put them in a way that invites an easy yes or no answer. The way you ask can actually help you identify a lie.

Consider the difference between the questions “Have you ever been evicted?” and “How many evictions have been filed against you?” The way the second question is asked forces the reader to stop for just a moment and consider it. This prevents the tenant from writing an automatic and reflexive “no,” and it then becomes more likely that you’ll get the truth.

Other good questions to frame this way include:

  • How many felony convictions do you have?
  • How many times have you broken a lease?
  • How many times have you failed to pay rent? 
What pets do you have?

Asking the right questions and asking them in the right way will go a long way towards getting you just the tenants you want.