Interviewing a Prospective Tenant: Can You Spot These Six Red Flags?

Sports carCredit is not the only factor in screening a tenant.

Truthfulness, respect for your property, and a willingness to cooperate are also crucial predictors of how the rental relationship will go.

Much of the information you need to know comes from the initial contact with the tenant. Do you know what to look for? Here are some tips:

Your Initial Impression Is Usually Correct

Sure, that sounds a little “touchy-feely”, but it’s true! Your first impression, or “gut feeling” is usually the most accurate, even though you may not realize why immediately. If you have some reservation, it’s because some subtle message was communicated, some hint of a bad attitude, for example, or some other red flag.

Most of the time the first contact is made on the phone. Are the phone manners appropriate for the situation? Do you detect an attitude? Are they overly enthusiastic? Is the person you are meeting with the same person you spoke with on the phone?

Is a Car a Clue to Character?

We’ve all been taught to look at the prospect’s car – a messy car means a messy apartment, right? Well, not always. Many managers find that a tenant could easily pay too much attention to their car, and not enough to their rental home. What is relevant with a car is not what kind of shape it’s in, but if it jibes with the information provided in the rental application. Is the license number the same as the car they list on the application? Is it from the state they say they are from? Is it brand new? Does the loan show up on the credit report?

Showing Up On Time a Sign of Cooperation, Responsibility

Whether your prospect is prompt tells you how interested they are in this relationship. Remember you first impression. If you are feeling frustrated that you’ve waited a half hour with no explanation, your “gut” is trying to tell you something.

Meet everyone who is going to move in. Watch how they relate to one another. Obviously you can’t analyze the relationships in a short period of time, but you can ask questions to get a sense of whether they‘ve lived together successfully before, if they each have a commitment to stay. Speak to each of them about their plans and expectations.

Discuss the Prospect’s Motives for Renting

Ask questions to glean the prospect’s future plans:

  • Why are they looking for a rental?

  • Why are they looking in your neighborhood?

  • Do they have bad things to say about the previous landlord?

  • Are they leaving the previous rental early?

Maybe you will find out they are in the market for a new home, and will rent just until they find it. Maybe they are about to be evicted. On the bright side, maybe they will tell you about a favorite restaurant nearby, and you can give a gift certificate as a lease incentive or anniversary gift.

Do a Drive-By

Drive by their current property if you want to see how it is kept-and if they live there. Consider going to the tenant’s home to drop off the application or lease.

Talk to Someone Who Knows

While it is critical to speak with the current landlord, it is just as important to speak to the previous landlord, who does not have an ulterior motive of getting the tenant out of their property. A common fraud is the give false landlord references. Use your detective skills to discover if the number you are calling is the landlord’s, not a friend’s. For example, have them call you back to see how the number registers on caller ID. Check the public records to see if the previous property is registered to that name.

While a successful initial interview paves the way for a smooth relationship, it is no substitute for a thorough background check. Click here to review what kinds of tenant screening reports are available.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services related to your commercial housing investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at

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