Screening potential tenants – 5 questions you should ask

PUBLISHED: 13th Jan 2017

Screening potential tenants – 5 questions you should ask

As increasing numbers of people choose to rent a home, with economic challenges and rising property prices making it difficult for many to get onto the property ladder, the UK lettings market is stronger than ever.

This is good news for both landlords and letting agents, but with a larger number of potential tenants, it follows that the screening process is even more important to ensure you let to the right people.

No landlord wants tenants who damage their property, fail to pay the rent or cause problems through anti-social behaviour, and a thorough initial process can minimise those risks.

In the worst case, problems can lead to solicitors’ fees and court costs in an attempt to obtain an eviction order, resulting in a lot of stress and expense. Taking steps to find tenants who are reliable and trustworthy, as well as financially secure, is common sense.

Asking potential tenants to fill out an application form is a simple way of acquiring relevant information that will help you decide who you want to live in your property. While it’s important not to pry too far into people’s lives, there are several pertinent questions you should ask.

Employment history

This not only allows you to find out whether the potential tenant currently earns enough to cover rental costs, but also gives you some insight into their reliability. A steady work history is reassuring, whereas long periods of unemployment or signs that someone switches jobs frequently might merit further investigation. You can also ask for a letter from the prospective tenant’s current employer to confirm the details of their employment and salary.

Financial information

A credit check provides valuable information about someone’s financial past. While one or two missed payments doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be a bad tenant, a poor overall credit score or a history of late or non-payment will raise a red flag.

Current debts should also be taken into consideration as these could affect someone’s ability to pay the rent.

You have the right to request copies of the prospective tenant’s bank statements, usually for between the previous three to six months, but bear in mind that they also have the right to refuse. Asking to see payslips instead might be a good compromise.

Details of previous addresses/landlords

Check out any residential history, including the tenant’s reasons for leaving previous rental properties. Ask for the contact details of former landlords; if they are a bad tenant, the current one may give a favourable report because they want to get them out of their accommodation. If your potential tenant is unwilling to supply this information, it may be something you want to look into further.

Lifestyle & personal interests

Some landlords would prefer not to rent to smokers or pet owners at all. Others might be ok with someone who has a cat, but wouldn’t want a tenant who owned three large dogs. This is entirely down to personal choice, but don’t forget to ask so that you can make an informed decision. You will also want to know who will be living in your property – whether it’s a single person, a couple, or a family with small children for example.

Personal references

Any thorough screening process should include obtaining personal references. Ask for full names, their relationship to your potential tenant and length of acquaintance, and contact details that include a phone number – and make sure you follow them up.

Some landlords may also request a DBS check (Disclosure & Barring Service – formerly known as a Criminal Records Bureau or CRB check) which can reveal whether someone has been convicted of any criminal offences. While not a common practice when it comes to renting out property, it is an option for those who feel it is necessary.

Bear in mind that tenants may ask for details of any information, such as a credit report, that is the cause of their application being rejected so ensure you keep copies of any reports and paperwork in case this happens.

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