As a landlord, you want the best possible tenant in your rental. Therefore, you may be wondering which questions you should be asking during the screening process in order to weed out undesirable applicants and find a good long-term tenant.

The ideal tenant has:

  • Monthly income 3x the rent
  • Clean eviction report
  • Good credit score
  • Positive reference checks
  • Steady employment history

One of the best ways to save yourself a lot of 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, parking, and other screening criteria so applicants can determine if they’re a good fit for your property.  This gives you a smaller, but better qualified pool of applicants 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 six of the top questions you should be asking your applicants to evaluate their potential as a tenant for your property.

Landlords should ask potential renters if they have pets

1. Do you have pets?

This question will help to pre-qualify applicants before you conduct a more formal screening. 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.

2. Why are you moving?

Asking about the reason behind the move can reveal past issues, such as prior evictions.  More reasonable explanations for needing a new place would be outgrowing their current apartment or wanting to shave time off their work commute.

3. How many people will be living in the unit?

You want to make sure there are enough bedrooms for all who will be staying in the rental and that you don’t exceed legal limits. Five friends looking to move into your one bedroom apartment might not be a good fit.

4. What is your monthly income?

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, giving a tenant enough to spend on other living expenses and keep a cushion in case any unexpected costs arise like car repairs, or medical expenses. You’ll want to verify the tenant’s answer with pay stubs and employment reference.

Renter payment problems is a top landlord pain point

5. Have you ever been convicted of a relevant crime?

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

A clean tenant background history is important to landlords

It’s not surprising to see the importance of criminal history to landlords. In 2015, 22% of applicants screened by SmartMove had a criminal hit on their record. This is an important piece of an applicant’s background that you’ll need to check before deciding if the applicant is right for your property.

6. Have you ever been evicted or broken a rental agreement?

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.     


Many landlords want to go by their “gut” feeling on rental applicants. However, regardless of how an applicant answers any of the questions above, many landlords will not wholly trust information provided at face-value by a prospective tenant. According to our 2016 Smart Move survey, 86% of landlords will verify an applicant’s information. All these questions should be followed up by a thorough background check, since applicants may purposefully give misleading answers, have a moment of forgetfulness, or pull figures from the air if they aren’t completely sure of especially when put on the spot.

A complete tenant screening is one of the most crucial steps in finding a good tenant. SmartMove’s online tenant screening services include comprehensive credit history, criminal background and eviction reports from TransUnion, so you can trust that your reports will be accurate and up to date. Making more informed decisions about applicants will help to protect both your property and rental income. By implementing a consistent tenant screening process and asking the right kinds of questions, you will have a much greater chance of finding reliable, profitable tenants.