If you've just gotten the news that quality renters will be moving on, it's only natural that you want to fill the upcoming vacancy with new renters who will be just as pleasurable to have in your apartment complex. If you do not have a dedicated property manager to handle this, the best way to do this is by screening all applicants, meeting with prospective renters in person, and asking questions that give you insight into how the applicants will be if accepted as renters. Use these five questions to find the best-qualified tenants in your applicant pool.
Why are you changing apartments?
There are plenty of legitimate reasons someone might be looking for a new apartment. A couple may be moving in together or an individual may be looking for a new apartment after a breakup. Someone may be moving to be closer to work, looking for more space, or striking out alone after living with roommates. Seasonality and geographical location often plays a big role in large fluctations of rental applications as well.
Be on the lookout for answers that could raise a red flag: e.g., anyone who mentions fighting with a landlord or other tenants, getting evicted, being asked to leave an apartment, not paying rent on time, not having the lease renewed, or being unable to afford a rent increase.
Do you have references from your landlord and employer?
You want a tenant who earns enough money to afford the unit rent. While you can ask for proof of employment, request employer and landlord references instead. By speaking to an applicant's employer, you can verify his or her employment and get an understanding for how the employer feels about the applicant.
It is wise to create a checklist of questions to ask references for renters you are considering, this way you have a way of objectively comparing prospective tenants when the time comes to select out of your pool of qualified applicants. Make a list of several reference check questions that you can pull from each time you are going through the tenant screening process.
Personal references are good for judging the character of a potential tenant, but you always run the risk of a good friend covering up for them and not getting an accurate picture of their character. Landlord references are usually a much better resource to utilize to give you an idea of how the tenant will act once they are living in your rental property.
While a current landlord may not disclose problems out of a desire to get rid of problem tenants quickly, a previous landlord reference may be more candid. Any tenant who acts leery of giving you these references probably has something to hide, so this question can help you screen for bad applicants even if you doubt you'll have time to check all references.
When do you want to move?
Applicants begin looking for a rental property at all different times frames, but what you need is an applicant who matches your time frame for filling the rental.
Assuming you have plenty of potential tenant applicants, there's no need to hold an apartment for someone who won't be ready to move for three months if you need it filled in 30 days. Before running background checks, credit checks and reference checks, it is also important to make sure that your prospective tenants are not needing to move in before your unit is available.
There is a delicate balance between finding a good tenant and finding an adequate tenant before your real estate investment becomes unprofitable. Make sure you and your prospective tenants are communicating clearly and fully understanding each other's needs.
How many people will be living here?
In many states, it's illegal to have more than two individuals living in a bedroom on a leased apartment. Thus, if you have a one-bedroom, no more than two individuals can live there; if you have a three-bedroom, no more than six individuals can live there. Municipal occupancy laws set the tenant-capacity limit in a given town or city.
More bodies in an apartment means more wear and tear on floors and surfaces. While you can decide to rent to someone if he or she plans to have more than two individuals per bedroom, barring occupancy restrictions, you may wish to increase the security deposit to cover the extra wear and tear.
Do you smoke/do you have pets?
It's up to you whether you want to allow smoking or pets in your rental apartment. Allowing pets on site can make your apartment attractive to renters looking to stay for several years, while allowing you to feel good about supporting animal welfare. Similarly, allowing smokers broadens the applicant pool. However, if the apartment is in a large building, other tenants may complain about the smell of smoke or decide not to renew their lease because they don't like the cigarette odor.
Once you've decided your stance on pets and smoking, ask potential renters if they smoke and have pets. To safeguard your property, make sure the tenant lease rental agreement includes your stance on smoking and pets, so you can evict a renter who violates the terms of the lease by smoking or adopting a pet. The reality is that some animal owners will make sure their pet causes little to no wear and tear on your property, but bad tenants can let even a small animal damage your property significantly.
To avoid any accusations of unfair renting practices, apply the same tenant screening processes and ask the same questions to anyone applying to rent an apartment from you, even if a friend has referred this person. When you ask everyone the same things and you document your procedure for selecting a tenant, you can avoid discrimination claims and fair housing violations.
Author bio: Jeff Cronrod is a member of the American Apartment Owners Association board and has more than 40 years of experience as a landlord. Cronrod has owned, rehabbed, developed and managed over 4,000 rental units throughout the United States.