Property Owners & Tenants Blog | All Property Management

Renting My House: Getting to Know Your Tenants

| 8 min. read

Renting to anybody involves risk. Whether you are a new landlord or have years of experience, every tenant brings with them the possibility of problems. It is important that you know exactly what type of tenant you are getting before you have them sign on the dotted line. Renting a house can be especially tricky. Unlike an apartment, a house requires a higher degree of commitment from residents. You have to be sure they are willing to care for an entire structure, and not just four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Additionally, you have to be sure that your house is a good fit for their needs. 

It’s vital that you know what you can expect from your tenants and they know what to expect from you. The best way to do that is to be prepared to answer the most common renter questions and have a clear idea of what questions you should present to potential renters. 

The Most Common Questions Tenants Will Ask You

During the early stages of the leasing process, you’ll likely find yourself fielding a whole host of questions from prospective tenants. Here are some of the most common questions tenants will ask you, and how you should handle them.

Can I Pay Upfront? 

If a renter offers to pay for several months upfront, you may be tempted to sign them on immediately. Instead, you should exercise caution. While a prospective tenant may just be genuinely so excited by the prospect of moving into your house that they want to guarantee their spot, it’s more likely that they have ulterior motives. A tenant that offers to pay upfront may know that their application could raise some red flags. 

Whatever the situation may be, there’s no real advantage to taking a prepaid tenant on. Instead, you should politely decline their request to prepay their rent and instead encourage them to fill out your rental application. If, after running their credit and background checks, you determine they’re low risk, then their offer should simply be taken as a sign that they’re highly motivated to move in. 

Can You Make an Exception for Your Pet Policy?

According to Buildium’s 2020 Renters’ Report, 5 in 10 renters look for properties that allow pets. So, it’s likely that if your current policies don’t allow for pets, you’re going to be asked to make an exception. Whether you want to make a change to your pet policy is, of course, up to you. If you just don’t want the headache of amending your policy, a simple “I’m sorry, I can’t make an exception” should suffice. However, the fact that 50% of renters look for a property that allows for pets should be compelling. If you decide to make a change, you can add a Pet Addendum to your lease. You should require your tenant to pay a deposit, just in case their furry family member causes damage to your property. Additionally, you can charge your tenant a monthly fee, or pet rent. 

Can My Due Date be the 15th?

There are a few reasons why a tenant may want to pay their rent on the 15th of the month. Perhaps they’re paid on a monthly basis. Maybe all of their bills hit on the same week of the month. While it’s admirable to be a compassionate landlord, it’s highly recommended that you stick with the industry standard of collecting rent on the first of the month. If your rental portfolio grows, maintaining consistency in your rental collection dates will save you from any number of logistical and organizational headaches. 

Will You Consider a Short-Term Lease?

It’s simple: the longer your property sits vacant, the less profitable it will be. Keeping your property rented consistently by reliable tenants is the name of the game in most rental markets. In other words, renting to a tenant for less than 12 months is typically less than desirable. 

However, if your rental market is slow, your house has been sitting vacant, or you’re entering the winter with zero tenants,  it might not be a bad idea to set up a short-term lease. When setting up a short-term lease, you can also charge a bit more for rent, as you’re providing a special accommodation to your renter and will most likely have to spend additional effort to fill the vacancy once they leave.  

Questions to Ask Your Tenant

While it’s important that you have answers ready for your would-be tenants, it’s also good to have your own list of questions prepared. After all, it’s only fair that you vet your potential tenants before they sign onto a lease. (It should be noted, however, that you should still have your future tenants complete an application so that a hard or digital record of their answers can be kept.)   

1.  Have you ever been evicted? 

Past evictions are frequently a strong predictor of future evictions. However, while this information will be available when you run their credit report, asking this question opens the door for applicants to explain themselves. Maybe they were evicted during a particularly difficult time in their life and have since turned things around. Asking this question can help you gain context that a credit report won’t provide. 

2. Do you plan on having roommates?

It’s very important that all residents of your property fill out their own application and, eventually, sign onto a lease. You need to be sure that all of your co-tenants are able to pay rent reliably. The only way you can know this is if all residents have been screened. Asking this question of your prospective residents is a good way to cover your bases, let them know that all residents must be on the property’s lease and subletting isn’t allowed, and help you avoid exceeding legal limits for your home’s occupancy rate.   

3. Why are you moving?

People move for all kinds of reasons. Buildium’s Renters’ Report found that only 13% of renters say that their current rental meets their needs. Asking this question can help you gain some insight into what your future renters are looking for in their next place, and help you meet their expectations. On a practical note, asking this question can also help you keep an eye out for red flags such as issues with the previous landlord, neighbor disputes, or even a history of missed rent payments.

4. Do you own any pets?

This is a great preliminary screening question to help you pre-qualify applicants before you begin a more formal screening process. If you don’t allow pets and they own an animal, then asking this question saves both parties time and energy. On the other hand, if you do allow pets, this question helps you determine whether their pet fits your criteria for a pet allowance. For example, if you only allow dogs under 30 lbs but they own a Great Pyrenees, you’ll have, once again, saved everyone involved a great deal of time. 

5. What is your monthly income?

According to Buildium’s 2021 Rental Owners’ Report, 30.9% of renters faced difficulty in paying their rent due to the pandemic. This has, unsurprisingly, caused property owners to suffer as well. It’s clear that making sure your tenants can pay rent is vitally important. The industry standard is that a tenant’s monthly income should be three times their rent. You should ask your applicants to divulge their income level on their application and to supply at least four paystubs, to show that their monthly income is consistent and high enough to provide them with the money they’ll need to pay rent and still have a financial cushion. There is, however, one kind of tenant whose income level may not be as much of an issue. That is, of course, students.

6. Are you a student? (Do you have a cosigner?)

Students are notorious for having low or nonexistent incomes. They may also have a low credit score or none at all. However, if your house is located in a college town, renting to students may end up being necessary. If your prospective tenant is a student, it’s important to ask them for a cosigner. This may be a parental figure or a trusted family friend. Whoever your applicant chooses, they must have a stable income and the ability to pay your tenant’s rent, should they come up short at some point during their lease. 

7. What do you look for from a landlord?

This question is vital to your ability to meet the expectations of your renters. In asking this question, you may find that your tenant wants to pay their rent exclusively online. Or, you may discover that your tenant has a particular expectation for how quickly maintenance requests are answered. While it’s important that your renters meet your standards, it’s crucial to remember that, at the end of the day, they’re also your customers. If your tenant is happy, they’re more likely to re-sign their lease, keeping your property rented and profitable. 

8. Do you understand the rental application process?

Especially when renting to younger tenants, you may find that your future renters are overwhelmed by the leasing and application process. Help them feel more at ease by creating the space they need to ask questions. You may find that by giving them the opening to ask questions, you’ll get to know them a bit better and they’ll be more inclined to be open and honest with you, as well. 

The Top Features Tenants Look for in a Rental

In addition to being prepared to answer the top questions you’ll encounter as a property owner, you should know the most popular features your future renters will be looking for from their future rental home. This will help you in two ways: First, you’ll be able to better market your house if you know which of the following criteria your rental meets and Second, you’ll be able to make reasonable changes to your services and property to meet the expectations of your pool of potential renters. 

1. Move-in Ready Condition

Renters expect that a property has been well taken care of, cleaned, and prepared for their move-in day. Make sure that you dedicate at least one day between tenants to deep clean and repaint the interior of your property. You can also make it clear to your new tenants that this is a service you offer. This is sure to make a positive impression. Additionally, in the age of COVID, it’s never been more important to deep clean and sanitize your properties in between tenants. Though studies have shown that the virus can’t be transmitted by touching surfaces, your tenants are unlikely to know this. They’ll more than likely be concerned about living in a space occupied by other people and will appreciate that you’ve taken every precaution necessary to keep them safe. 

2. Quick Response Times (Maintenance)

Many renters base their entire relationship with their landlord on the responsiveness and knowledge of their maintenance staff. It is vital that you have a trusted and reliable team of maintenance professionals on standby at all times. Your tenants will expect that both their non-emergency and emergency requests are handled quickly. The way your maintenance team responds could make the difference between whether or not they re-sign their lease at the end of their first year. The right property manager can help you identify the best local maintenance companies and stay responsive to tenant requests.

3. Efficiency/Eco-Friendly Appliances

The rise in the popularity of “eco-friendly” housing should cause rental property owners to sit up and take notice. According to Buildium’s Renters’ Report, 23.6% of renters prefer rental properties that offer eco-friendly appliances and “green” services. One way you can attract these renters is to invest in high-efficiency or eco-friendly appliances. These keep utility costs low and appeal to Earth-minded renters.  

4. Security

According to Buildium, nearly 30% of renters would be positively influenced by the existence of a security system in a potential rental home. Whether you invest in a Ring security camera or simply install floodlights, prospective tenants will appreciate your efforts to keep them, and your property, safe and secure. 

5. Accessible Landlords

Tenants want to feel perfectly at home in their rented property. One way you can guarantee this is to be accessible to them. Nearly 60% of renters want to be able to reach their landlord via text or email. While it isn’t recommended that you provide renters with your personal cell phone number, providing accessibility in one form or another will help renters feel listened and catered to. 

6. Technology

As a property owner, you’re likely to be renting primarily to Millenial and Gen Z tenants over the next few years. These two generations are characterized as using technology frequently in daily life. That being said, even Gen X and Baby Boomers appreciate the conveniences that technology can offer. Buildium’s Renters’ Report found that 65% of renters want the ability to pay their rent online and 45% prefer to file maintenance requests online. As such, it’s important that you or your property manager meet these expectations and offer services through property management software.

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