Interviewing Tenants: A Landlord Guide

Estimated reading time 8 minutes

If you own a property or a portfolio of properties that you rent out, you will likely want tenants who are respectful of your property, honest with their intentions and able to pay the rent. Unfortunately, no crystal ball can tell you how the tenancy will pan out but, with an interview before signing any agreement, you can get a good idea of the person (or people) that are likely to be renting your property.

So, what should you ask them to make sure that the tenant matches your criteria, yet also feels comfortable living in your property?

Before you interview tenants

Before you begin to interview any tenants, you should create an idea of your ideal tenant. If need be, list the criteria you would like them to meet. This can shape the questions you may ask as well as help you understand some of the answers you may be given. With this ideal tenant in mind, review what you have drafted, as you could be running the risk of being discriminatory. For example, it would not be wise to specify a race, sexuality or any physical features or disabilities. Such things could see you breach fair housing laws and also tarnish your reputation as a landlord.

Now you can list the property. This may be done via an estate agent or privately, depending on your preference as a landlord. As the bookings for viewings begin to build up, start to curate your interview questions. You may even find that after a few meetings with prospective tenants, you discover more questions to ask that you hadn’t considered at first.

Give focus to their current living situation, employment history and prospects.

Pre-viewing phone interview

You may feel more comfortable holding a phone interview first. It helps break the ice and avoids the awkwardness that can sometimes come with a first face-to-face meeting. It will help you build up an initial impression of the person and allow you to filter out those that may not match your criteria. Once you have spoken with the applicants and determined who you may wish to proceed with, invite them to come and meet you at the property. They can then give the house a closer look and you can get to know them a little more.

The questions for landlords to ask potential tenants

When you schedule an interview with a tenant, you want them to feel at ease, but you will want to dig deep enough to find out all you need to know to give you reassurances that this person (or people) are right for your property.

Below, we have picked a list of specific questions that might help you find the tenant you desire, rather than just picking a tenant to help fill an empty property.

Some of these questions you may have already asked in the phone call, but you can always use these again to clarify previous answers or probe a little more, should there have been something you were unsure of. If you opt to ask the same question again, perhaps reference their phone call answer in the question. That way you avoid appearing robotic or like you never listened to them the first time around. For example, “You say you would like to move in during the first week of November; is this still the case?”.

Not only are you clarifying the answer they gave but you are also checking whether their needs still match yours. For the questions, read on!

When would you be looking to move in?

As mentioned above, you may well have asked this already. If so, use it as an opportunity to clarify the original answer. If not, you can now discover whether their moving plans match the availability of your property. If the dates are too far apart, this is often the best time to end the meeting as neither party will be able to satisfy the other’s needs.

Are you renting at the moment?

Again, this may have been a question you asked in a phone call but if not, it is certainly wise to ask it. This not only helps inform you if they are used to dealing with a landlord, but also that they understand the whole process of renting.

Would your landlord be happy to give a reference?

This question is a great way to discover a little more about the relationships the tenant had with their landlord, and also highlight things you may need to do as a landlord yourself. If the tenant informs you of certain things the landlord did that were beneficial to them, you may want to incorporate them into your tenancy agreement. If the tenant says that they will not be able to get a reference from the landlord, enquire as to why.

What does your landlord think about you moving?

This question gives you a great chance to discover a little about the tenant’s character. If they tell you that they haven’t informed their landlord, could it be a sign that they may hide things from you too? Within this question, depending on the answer, you could also push to find out why they are moving out of the property.

Have you been evicted or broken a rental contract in the past?

This can be a difficult subject for some, especially if the reasons happened to be out of their control or unavoidable at the time. It does go some way to giving you a little more insight into the tenant, though, so feel free to ask. Try not to be too judgemental, as some things happen and may not be a direct result of the tenant themselves. Allow them to explain everything, you may find out more about them, or their former landlord as a result. Just remember, landlords evict tenants all the time and sometimes it can be for reasons that were not the tenant’s fault.

Do you have any pets?

In most cases, your ad would have stipulated whether you would allow pets or not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask again, especially as some people class hamsters, mice or fish as not pets. Some tenants and even landlords seem to class pets as just dogs or cats. This is perhaps because caged pets are less likely to bite furniture, soil the carpet or create a noise disturbance. Regardless of the pet type, ask the question and determine what you feel comfortable with. You may not be happy with a dog in the home, but you may be OK with a gecko, for example. Just remember, there is no law around pets and rental properties; the decision rests with you, the landlord.

Do you or any tenants smoke?

Much like when the doctor asks, “How much alcohol do you drink?” answers to the smoking question are often vague. They may say no but smoke one a day, they might say yes but be conservative with the amounts. Either way, asking the question gives you the chance to demonstrate your position on whether smoking is acceptable in the property.

What do you do for a job?

Whilst it is an innocent enough question, it also stands to give you an idea of job stability and the use of the property. If they are a person who works from home, there is every chance your furniture will suffer from more wear and tear. If they are in a part-time position in an unstable industry, could rent payments become an issue?

What do you do in your free time?

A friendly question to help round off the chat gives you a further chance to learn a little more about them, but perhaps more importantly, it might give you a little more insight into their behaviour. If someone says they love partying and hanging out with friends, could your home become their social hub? For the most part, you will be given answers you want to hear, so it is hard to have a truly accurate response to this question.

Do you have any questions for me?

Before they leave, allow them to quiz you. They may want clarification on bills, the local area, the deposit, reasons you may keep a tenancy deposit and the length of the tenancy. You will have covered a lot of this in the initial phone call and then the chat, but it is important to allow the tenant to ask questions. If anything, it shows that they are willing to find out more and are perhaps more serious about the property than some other people.

Of course, the interview could uncover some answers that naturally lead on to other questions. As a result, it would be impossible for us to cover them all here.

If you are a landlord and are now considering it’s time to move on from letting out properties, speak to Gaffsy. We buy any house, even those with tenants in situ. We even buy entire portfolios, so should you be selling a property portfolio, just let us know. Our team can give you a valuation quickly and should you accept it, we can have your property, or properties, off your hands in a timescale that suits you. Cash can be in your account in just seven days.

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