Top Questions to Ask a Potential Tenant [and What Not to Ask]

Congratulations, you have just advertised your Detroit rental property, and prospective tenants are showing interest! So what’s next? How do you know which potential tenant to pick?

As every Detroit landlord knows, tenants come in all different shapes and sizes. Good ones will care for your property, keep you up to date with any maintenance issues, and provide a reliable source of income.

Bad ones, on the other hand, will often run crying to Legal Aid or to sleazebag attorneys, claiming that you want to evict them.

To avoid these situations, you need to have a good tenant screening process in place. The process usually involves checking and verifying a prospective tenant’s credit, criminal, income, and rental background.

Contrary to what most landlords believe, effective tenant screening starts way before the application process. It should start the minute you first have contact with a potential renter. Usually, this is when prospective renters call to view your rental property.

So before the calls and emails start to roll in, you want to arm yourself with a rental questionnaire. These questions will help you filter the good tenants from the bad immediately. It goes without saying that this can be a huge time-saver.

It’s crucial that these tenant screening questions adhere to the Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibits discrimination on seven protected classes.

 

6 Questions to Ask a Prospective Detroit Tenant

 

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Question #1: What is your reason for moving?

Just look for an answer that is understandable and reasonable. For example, “I just changed jobs and need to move closer to work.” or “I need a bigger place because my family is growing.”

If a prospective renter tells you “I’m moving because I got evicted.” or “I’m suing my former landlord.”, then you might want to consider another renter.

 

Question #2: When are you planning to move in?

Beware of someone who says, “Tomorrow!” or “This weekend.” Why so? Good tenants always plan ahead. Additionally, most landlords require that tenants give them a thirty-day’ move-out notice.

That said, some tenants also may have special circumstances. For instance, the tenant may be a victim of domestic violence. He or she may also have received a sudden job transfer.

In general, though, good tenants begin their apartment search well in advance so this is a great question to ask.

 

Question #3: What is your monthly income?

Rent is the bread and butter of your rental property. It’s therefore important that you choose tenants who are capable of paying the rent. You want a tenant who makes at least two-and-a-half times the price of rent.

If you charge $1,200 as rent per month, then you should be looking for a renter making no less than $3,000 a month.

Bear in mind that their monthly income only tells half the story. To get the full story, you’ll need to run a credit check. Among other things, it’ll show you their monthly obligations, FICO credit score, collections, and more.

Just make sure to get their consent prior to running the check.

 

Question #4: Can you pay move-in costs during lease signing?

Asking this tenant screening question will give you insights into their financial situation. Are they prepared to pay all the required fees? Or, do they seem unsure and suggest to pay the fees in installments?

If they belong to the latter group, consider it a red flag. The last thing you want is to start a relationship with them where they already owe you money.

 

Question #5: Do you have any pets?

This is an important question to ask tenants because if you allow pets, then remember to tell them about your pet policies. For example, the weight of the pet, and the number and type of pet allowed.

If you don’t allow pets, then don’t waste your time interviewing them. Continue looking.

 

Question #6: Will you agree to a credit and background check?

If you ask a renter to conduct a background check and they don’t agree, they probably have something to hide. Politely move along to the next applicant.

If they agree, let them sign a consent form. Verbal consent isn’t legally binding.

 

6 Questions Landlords Cannot Ask a Potential Detroit Tenant

 

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In general, you cannot ask potential Detroit tenants questions that violate Fair Housing Rules. Here are some examples:

 

Question #1: Do you go to church around here?

Religion is a protected class under Michigan Fair Housing Rules. A renter may take it to mean that the landlord is biased for, or against, atheists or Christians.

 

Question #2: Do you have kids?

This is another big question landlords cannot ask prospective tenants. Familial status is a protected class. You cannot ask a potential Denver tenant anything related to their children. For example, where they go to school or how many you have.

 

Question #3: Do you have any disability?

A disabled person has the same rights to rent an apartment as a person who is able-bodied. A person’s disability, when it comes down to it, cannot be brought into screening questions when renting even if it’s a severe disability.

What’s more, you cannot use a “no pet” policy against a disabled person.

 

Question #4: Are you straight, gay, or bisexual?

Again, this question has no place in the conversation. Sexual orientation is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. Asking this question can attract heavy penalties.

 

Question #5: Have you ever been arrested for anything?

A conviction and an arrest mean two different things. While not a protected class under Fair Housing Rules, you aren’t allowed to know a tenant’s arrest record under the Michigan landlord-tenant laws.

 

Question #6: Where were you born?

This may sound like an innocent rental question, especially if the renter has an accent and you pick up on it. However, national origin is a protected class under Fair Housing Rules. A tenant’s national origin shouldn’t have any impact on their application.

Similarly, you also cannot ask a tenant: “What race are you?” or “are you Section 8 or on welfare?”

 

As you can see, knowing what to ask – and what not to ask potential rent is essential for a successful rental investment. Now, get out there and find yourself a good tenant to fill your beloved Detroit rental property.

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