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Being a landlord is hardly an easy job. Far from simply buying a property and then expecting it to print money for you, becoming a landlord requires a clear knowledge of, and careful adherence to, local property laws regarding maintenance and the treatment of tenants. 

A large part of being a successful landlord is choosing the right tenants for your property. Not everyone who applies to rent from you will make an ideal tenant, but how do you tell the best from the worst?

If you are planning to buy property management services from a local estate agent, you can usually count on them to find tenants on your behalf. However, it is still important to ask what kind of checks they do, if any. There are plenty of horror stories of agencies who failed to look beyond a tenant’s ability to simply pay rent, resulting in noisy nights, property damage or even legal consequences.

Before going forward, be sure to keep in mind that it is illegal to discriminate against potential tenants on grounds of race, age, gender or disability.

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What questions should I ask potential tenants?

A good tenant does more than just pay rent on time (though many don’t even manage to do this with any consistency). They will also clean the property regularly, report any repair or maintenance issues and avoid causing any kind of trouble with their neighbours. The ideal tenant will fulfil all of these obligations while also being able to comfortably provide you with the necessary documentation and references to give you complete peace of mind.

So, exactly what should be on your checklist when interviewing or screening potential new tenants?

  • The reason for their move - There are plenty of legitimate reasons for wanting to relocate, such as changing jobs or wanting more space. However, if a prospective tenant has a negative response (fighting with their previous landlord, for example), it might be an idea to turn them away
  • When they are looking to move - Your new tenant should be able to start the tenancy at a time that suits you. Consider whether you want to have any work done to your property and when your current tenants are moving out. If your prospects are in a hurry to move, be sure to ask why!
  • The size of their group - It is generally advised that a property have no more than two people per bedroom. This is particularly important when considering insurance, as there may be conditions set by your provider on the number of occupants your property can have. Talking to your prospects about this can also be a great time to bring up your personal policy on subletting
  • Their income - A good tenant should be able to pay rent on time. This is not just about them having a job - it should also be a reliable and (ideally) permanent role. This is not mandatory, and indeed many good tenants may have temporary or contract positions. It all depends on how comfortable you want to be. Be sure to ask whether they are comfortable paying a deposit and a certain amount of rent in advance of the move
  • How long they want to stay for - As a general rule it is best to avoid tenants who want a place to live for less than six months. Nine times out of ten, it simply will not be worth it for you otherwise. Ideally your tenant will want to stay for a minimum of 12 months
  • Whether they want any additional work done to the property - Depending on the state of the building and its contents, prospective tenants may want you to pay for some changes. For example, they may want to replace old furniture, or they may ask you to redecorate some of the rooms

  • Their habits - Does the prospective tenant have partners, children or pets? Do they like to have friends over for parties? Do they work days or nights? Do they smoke? Do they play any musical instruments? All of this can decide how likely they are to properly care for the property and avoid annoying the neighbours
  • References - A reference will let you know what kind of person a prospective tenant is. In particular, it can tell you how reliable they are and back up what they claim about their habits. Be sure to ask for references directly in order to avoid fakes. In other words, if they list former landlords or employers, contact them yourself
  • Documentation - A tenant who cannot provide the necessary documentation is not worth considering. Be sure to ask for a valid form of ID (passport or driver’s licence), a utility bill to confirm their old address, a bank statement to show that they can pay rent on time, a credit check to highlight whether they have had issues paying bills in the past (you will need a tenant’s written consent for this), their National Security number and proof that they have the right to stay and rent in the UK
  • Rental guarantor - This simply provides added financial security for you. In case a tenant cannot pay their rent, a guarantor will be there to ensure you get your money
  • Previous evictions - This can be a sore point, but it is definitely worth asking about. Keep in mind that if the answer is ‘yes’, your prospective tenant may have a genuine reason, such as unforeseen circumstances leaving them unable to pay rent
  • Compatibility in HMOs - If your property is an HMO, you may just be looking for a new tenant to fill a single room. If this is the case, ask yourself whether the new tenant will be a good fit with your current ones. Arguments are not healthy for anybody!

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Letting tenants ask questions

Once a tenant has satisfied all of the above, it is worth asking one final question: do they have anything to ask you? This can be a great way to establish a rapport and it can even give you a better idea of how experienced and responsible a tenant they would be.

In particular, be prepared to answer questions on:

  • Your ideal minimum rental period for new tenants
  • Size of deposit 
  • Whether property is furnished/ unfurnished
  • Does the rent include utilities and council tax?
  • When and how the rent will be paid
  • Whether you are aware of any problems at the property