8 Questions to Ask When Screening Tenants

By Andrea Collatz

As a landlord, you want the best possible tenant to occupy your rental. Therefore, you may wonder what kinds of questions you should ask during the tenant screening process. In order to weed out undesirable applicants and find a good long-term tenant, it’s important to ask questions that will help you to understand if your applicant will meet your expectations and vice versa.

Keep in mind that the ideal tenant has:

  • Monthly income that is three times the rent rate
  • A clean eviction report
  • Good credit score
  • Positive reference checks
  • Steady employment history

One of the best ways to save yourself time and effort during the screening process is to state your leasing criteria upfront in your rental advertisement. This is your opportunity to address things like pet restrictions or policies, parking arrangements, and other screening criteria so applicants can predetermine if they’re a good fit for your property.  This effort could help to give you a smaller, but more qualified pool of prospective tenants from the start. By setting expectations upfront and only showing properties to people who are at least somewhat qualified, you can be more efficient with your time – and for a busy landlord, time is money.

Once you have a pool of applicants you can begin scheduling property tours, which is the perfect time to ask your applicants more questions about themselves. Below are eight of the top questions you should consider asking your applicants to begin evaluating their potential as a tenant for your rental property.


If they have pets and you don’t accept animals, then you’ve saved both yourself and the applicant time and effort. If you do allow pets but have restrictions on the number or size of pets, this is also the time to let the applicant know about your specific pet policy.

If your applicant is bringing Fido along, it’s best to let him or her know how much you charge for a pet deposit and if it’s on a yearly or monthly basis.


Take time to learn about the reason behind the prospective tenants’ move, this simple yet mighty question could help to reveal past issues, such as prior evictions.   A few reasonable explanations for their move may be because they’ve outgrown their current apartment or want to shave time off their work commute.

Note: Don’t take an applicants’ answers at face value. Make sure you follow up with a landlord reference check to help ensure you don’t accept a tenant who won’t pay rent on time or is in the eviction process.  


Make sure there are enough bedrooms for all who will occupy the rental property so you don’t exceed legal limits. Five friends looking to move into your one bedroom apartment might not be fitting.

Keep in mind that the smaller number of tenants you have in your rental unit may mean less wear and tear on your rental property in general — and less stressful property management in between tenants.


According to a 2014 SmartMove user survey, payment problems are one of landlords’ top concerns with new tenants, so this should be one of the first questions on your radar. The industry standard is a monthly income that is three times the rent. This gives the tenant enough to spend on other expenses and keep a cushion in case any costs like car repairs or medical expenses should arise. Along with pay stubs and an employment reference, you’ll want to analyze the tenant’s income.


This is an important question to ask, because depending on how the applicant answers, it could be a warning sign. For example, if they respond, “today,” that could mean they’re being evicted or it could point to extremely poor planning skills.

Ideally, a potential renter will list a timeframe of anywhere from one to four weeks out in the future. This gives you time to make sure your rental is properly cleaned and scoped out for any wear and tear. You’ll also want to have time to perform a complete tenant screening before your new renter moves in. With SmartMove tenant screening, you receive credit, criminal, eviction and Income Insights reports in minutes so you can make quicker leasing decisions.


By asking about a possible tenant’s ability to pay the move-in amount now, you’ll get an idea of the renter’s financial situation and ability to plan ahead. A potential renter should be able to pay the security deposit plus the first month’s rent.

You might also charge additional fees associated with move-in (as long as you’ve included these clauses within your rental agreement), so don’t forget about those when you ask this question.


Many landlords generally view criminal history and income as important in their screening decision. A SmartMove user survey showed that 60% of landlords strongly and somewhat agreed that criminal history is more important than credit history.

It’s not a surprise to see the importance of criminal history to landlords. In 2016, 24% of applicants screened by SmartMovehad a criminal hit on their record. This is an important piece of an applicant’s background that you’ll need to check before you decide if the applicant is right for your property.


A thorough screening will help answer this question for you, but asking this question in person gives the applicant the chance to explain the situation. TransUnion research shows that past evictions are predictive of future evictions, so if they say yes, you’ll want to proceed with caution. However, if there were extenuating circumstances and their current financial standing is in good order, it may not impact your decision to accept them as a tenant.  


When it comes to finding great tenants, there’s no cap on the amount of questions you should ask. Here are some additional questions you might want to consider – the answers to these queries may help you separate the good from bad tenants:

  • How long do you plan to live here?
  • Do you smoke?
  • How many vehicles do you currently own?
  • How many parking spaces do you need?
  • How did you hear about this property?
  • Have you had any issues with your previous landlord?
  • Who is your emergency contact?
  • Do you have any questions about the rental application process?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does serve as a great starting point. Note: Be sure your questions are non-discriminatory and abide by FHA stipulations; if you’re unsure, make sure to communicate with legal counsel.


Many landlords want to go by their “gut” feeling on rental applicants. However, regardless of how an applicant answers any of the questions above, landlords may not wholly trust information given at face-value by a prospective tenant. According to our 2016 Smart Move survey, 86% of landlords will verify an applicant’s information.

A thorough tenant screening is one of the most crucial steps in finding a good tenant. TransUnion SmartMove offers an online tenant screening service that includes comprehensive credit history, criminal background , Income Insights and eviction reports in minutes.

SmartMove is designed to offer great reports, great convenience, and great tenants.  It helps provide independent landlords with the information they need in order to make a more informed leasing decision. Making more informed decisions about potential tenants can help to protect both your property and rental income. By asking the right questions and implementing a consistent tenant screening process you will have a much greater chance of finding reliable, profitable tenants

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