How to interview a potential tenant

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Interviewing a potential tenant is an important step in ensuring the success of a lease agreement. As a landlord, you may be tempted to accept the first person who shows up with a deposit as a tenant. However, if the tenant is not a good fit for the property, you may end up going through the whole process again in a short period of time. The goals of the interview process should be to find a tenant who can afford the property, who has a stable income flow to sustain payments and who likes the property and is likely to stay.

Get or make a questionnaire. By having a written questionnaire in front of you, whether you conduct your interview in person or over the phone, you can ensure you ask the same questions of all potential tenants. This can be important if a discrimination charge is ever filed against you, because you can demonstrate that you asked the same questions impartially of all applicants. Also, having a questionnaire prevents you from overlooking any important questions you should be asking your applicants.

Ask standard but necessary questions. In addition to compiling personal information on your applicant, such as her name, address and contact information, be sure to gather lifestyle information as well. As a landlord, you should know if your tenants smoke or have pets and how many people will be living in the rental. Other important questions include when the tenant would want to move in and why she is moving out of her current lodging.

Observe the appearance and mannerism of the applicant. Although observational impressions are not always valid, if your applicant shows up on time for your interview, is respectful and has a tidy appearance, that is oftent an indication that he will treat your property with the same care.

Brief your potential tenant on the property rules. To save headaches for both you and your tenant in the future, outline any specific rules or regulations attached to your property. For example, if you own an apartment complex with a pool, explain any curfews regarding the pool or any restrictions regarding children or guests. If you have quiet hours at your property, ask if the applicant can abide by those restrictions.

Run a credit check. No matter how well an applicant answers the questions on your questionnaire, unless she shows a history of responsible payments, you may run into trouble down the road. A credit check will show the real-life payment history of the applicant and can alert you to potential difficulties. Since a credit check costs money, you may want to ask the applicant to cover the cost of the service. In addition to reducing your costs, having the applicant pay the fee can also act as a screening device to determine how serious the applicant is about wanting to rent your property.

Get references. Even with a pristine credit history and a successful interview, some tenants can still be bad news. Ask for at least one and preferably more references from prior landlords, and follow up with phone calls to these references. Prior landlords are often the best source of information regarding the suitability of any given tenant.


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