1. “How long will you live here?”
Unless you are in a transient business, always look for residents who indicate they are planning on staying in the unit long-term. After all, in the most real sense, they are our business partners. Because turnover and vacancy can be a couple of the most expensive things an PM goes through, they should be avoided when possible. If the applicant writes down anything less than a year, that is probably your sign that they are not a good candidate.
2. “What pets do you have?”
Whether you allow pets or not in your units, this question is phrased in such a way as to not appear negative. If you were to ask, “Do you have any pets?” they may write “no,” thinking a “yes” will immediately disqualify them. Asking “what” instead of “do you” increase the chances of their being honest with this question.
3. “How many evictions have been filed upon you?”
PM's should phrase the question like this: “How many evictions have been filed on you?” Such wording will require the resident to think and not write an automatic “no.” Yes and no questions are much too easy to falsify, and residents are used to questions being phrased that way. Also, an eviction filing identifies an irresponsible resident as far as an eviction that proceeded to the point of the Sheriff escorting them out the door. Both are consequences of bad behavior that you don’t need to deal with. Having them write an actual number also takes away their ability to claim they misunderstood the question.
4. “How many felonies do you have?”
Once again, phrasing this question “how many,” rather than “do you have” requires the resident to stop and think about how they answer. Obviously, this information will be available on the resident’s background check, but by asking it here, you can determine whether or not the applicant is the honest sort or someone who has no problem falsifying answers to get what they want.
5. “Have you ever broken a lease?”
This information should also be discovered when gathering your resident’s references, but by asking here, you again will be able to determine your applicant’s honesty. If they have broken a lease, find out the details from the previous PM and be prepared to require additional securities should you decide to rent to them.
6. “Do you smoke?”
A qualification standard may state that all applicants must be non-smokers to be approved. This may be a relatively new standard, and it may seem harsh, but it became necessary after getting unit after unit back that had smoke permeating the walls and carpet, despite having a “no smoking” policy. Smoke gets into everything and can only be remedied by re-painting with oil-based paint and replacing the flooring. Sometimes you may even need to oil-base prime the floor underneath your new carpet to seal out the odor. It’s a hassle, and it’s expensive. When we realized a “no smoking” policy was not enough, we took it one step further and eliminated smokers altogether. A “yes” to this question on the application will result in immediate disqualification from us—unless it’s for medical marijuana, which we may have to accommodate, though specific locations outside the interior of the home can be designated.
7. “How many vehicles do you own?”
Do you want that resident to be the one with four vehicles in the parking lot and may have two inoperable cars? Neither do we. It’s good to find out before you approve them how many vehicles they plan to bring with them. It’s also a good idea to have a limit to the number of cars they can have on the property.
8. “Is the total move-in amount available now?”
The answer to this question gives you a good indication of whether your applicant is financially responsible and plans ahead. If they knew they would be moving and have gone so far as to apply for your rental, they should have had adequate time to prepare for the move-in money standards.
9. “When would you like to move in?”
If your applicant answered “today,” or “ASAP,” be very careful during your screening process. A resident wanting to move quickly could mean a few things:
They are being evicted.
Their PM asked them to leave
They do not plan ahead
They are not currently renters (everyone needs a place to live—where are they now living and why?),
A variety of other reasons that don’t bode well for you.
Another answer to be aware of is if they write a date in the distant future. For example, if they apply for your vacant rental in April saying they would like to move in come July, that’s probably not going to work for you. It’s highly unlikely it would be financially advantageous for you to hold your rental for three months! The answer you will want to see to this question is anywhere from 1–4 weeks out. Anything else you will want to scrutinize carefully.
10. “How did you hear about this community?”
This question helps you track what parts of your marketing are working and what parts are not.
11. “For what reasons could you not pay rent on time?”
If a resident states any reason other than “death,” it should be noted. Again, you are looking for a resident who is financially responsible, and while a lot of residents live paycheck to paycheck, you don’t want someone with the mentality that as soon as something goes wrong, the PM doesn’t get paid. Things go wrong all the time for everyone; plans change, cars break down, jobs are lost, medical emergencies happen, but even with these unexpected (but guaranteed) events, you want a resident who pays their bills and doesn’t let hardships interfere with their rent. The correct answer to this question is “nothing.” If they answer differently, it doesn’t mean they are going to be bad residents, but it does indicate a mentality that you should be wary of when making your decision to approve or deny them a tenancy.
12. “Do you have a checking account? Do you have a savings account?”
When screening your potential residents, always find out whether they have a checking or savings account. Having a bank account does not magically make your prospective resident more responsible; however, not having a bank account is a definite sign that something might be amiss. Chances are, the reason they don’t have a bank account isn’t that they just never got around to it. It may be a sign of an irresponsible financial life—maybe they couldn’t handle a bank account and got tired of all the bounced checks or overdraft fees—or it could also be a sign of garnishment due to judgments or illegal sources of income. A bank account versus no bank account is probably not a deal killer, but something to keep in mind during your screening process.
13. “What is the balance of your checking and savings account?”
This may seem like it’s none of the PM’s business, but remember, we are asking questions that determine the applicant’s suitability for the rental based purely on business reasons. If they have $20 in their checking account, things are not looking good for either of you. Job and income stability, income source, credit and background checks, and PM references are sufficient to tell you whether they are the responsible sort, but again, if they are living paycheck to paycheck, then some unexpected financial emergency happens in their life, it’s going to be difficult for them to make the rent payment. Look for residents who have a comfortable amount of funds to their name.
14. “Who is your emergency contact (including to contact regarding rent or tenancy)?”
Every PM has experienced a resident (or many residents) who are late on their rent and bury their heads, making it impossible for the PM to communicate with them. That’s where the emergency contact comes into play. Most applicants will list someone close to them, such as a parent or a close friend. These are people you want to know. Because you specified that the emergency contact was also a contact for rent or tenancy, you may contact that person in the event the resident doesn’t pay rent or has some other tenancy-related issue that a kick in the pants from the emergency contact may help solve.
15. “Why should we rent to you?”
With this question, the resident has the opportunity to tell you what makes them the best choice for a lease. What every PM/PM wants to hear is: “I have great rental references and solid, consistent income. I always pay my bills before they are due, and I love the home you have available for rent. I would love to make it my permanent home. I also have a halo and wings and volunteer at the children’s hospital every Saturday.” OK, maybe not that last part. If they answer, “I don’t know,” or “I need a place to live ASAP,” they aren’t very confident in their attributes as a resident, are they?
16. “Is there any additional information we should know?”
As stated on the application itself, the applicant is invited to “Please use this optional space for additional information, comments, or explanations.” This is where a resident can explain why they have evicted two years prior or the fact. This can give you a little more insight into the person you are screening.