Secret Answers to Rental Application Questions

There are a lot of skills associated with being a landlord that only come with time and experience. Knowing how to “read between the lines” of a prospective tenant’s responses to rental application questions is one of those skills. After you’ve been in the game for a while, you start to recognize patterns in behaviors and answers that give you more insight into whether or not a tenant will be a good fit for your property. We know that not everyone has that experience yet, so instead of testing the fire and potentially getting burned, we have a few words of advice to offer.

Here are a few standard rental application questions and how to read the “secret” answers they reveal about your applicants.

Names of All Non-Related Applicants

One of the first questions you’ll ask on an application is, naturally, the name of the applicant. However, it’s a good idea to have each non-related resident fill out a separate application. Family members tend to be a package deal, but when you have an unmarried couple or a group of roommates living together, situations can change quickly. Having unrelated applicants may mean potential complications, and it’s worth considering alongside other factors.

Addresses of Present and Previous Residences

Having a current address is another way you can determine whether unrelated people will make a good match for your unit. If you have an unmarried couple that has lived together for several years, that shows stability. If people are coming from all different places, it can mean a lot of things (college students moving in together, for example). It’s worth thinking about. Previous addresses also show a person’s rental pattern.

Sources of Income

You’ll always want to see where a tenant’s money is coming from, which means obtaining and verifying their current employer(s). You want to verify because people can fudge the facts, such as listing two jobs when they’re actually leaving one relatively soon. Other sources of income are a factor, as well, such as child support or social security. Keep in mind that it’s illegal to discriminate against tenants based on whether or not they receive aid, but it is good to know if their child support is current and steady.

Vehicle Information

How many vehicles will be occupying space on your property, and are they all in working order? Parking issues can cause dissatisfaction among your current tenants. A non-functional car taking up space can be both a safety and an aesthetic issue.

Rental & Eviction History

This is pretty self-explanatory — has a tenant every been evicted or asked to move? Why? Getting the “why” can be pretty important. A prior eviction does not necessarily mean the person was a problem. This is why it’s always important to research and speak to previous landlords.

Drug Use, Sex Offender Registry, Felonies and Misdemeanors

It’s a good idea to ask potential tenants whether they’ve ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, as well as any crime that would have them added to a sex offender registry. Furthermore, asking about whether they’ve been in trouble for controlled substances can reveal a lot, even if they’re unwilling to answer the question. These are all answers you can find through a background check, but having the question on your application may weed out people with spotty backgrounds right up front.

Emergency Contact Information

Who does the tenant list as an emergency contact, and do they ask why you need that information? This can be very revealing.

Credit and Background Checks

You should be screening all your tenants if you really want to make sure that everyone is who they say they are on paper. This information can be invaluable, and we recommend you always verify it. We’ve discussed in other posts how “fair” or “bad” credit doesn’t always translate to a bad renter, so do your due diligence and consider all the angles.

Lastly, always make sure to include a stipulation at the bottom of the application that states that any falsified information can result in the termination of a lease. This covers many of your bases and gives people pause before being a little fast and loose with their facts.

To better help you make the right decision, try our RentalConnect program, which offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search. Reach out to us for more details!


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