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Interviewing prospective tenants

Article Posted - 18th November 2013

Even if a prospective tenant's credentials look good on paper, it's important that you or the letting agent meet them in person. The NLA recommends the following straightforward and comprehensive approach to meeting prospective tenants at the rental property.

Q: Do I need to meet everyone who responds to my advert?

A: No. Always deal with prospective tenants over the telephone first or   following e-mail. Get them to provide certain information about themselves before you decide to shortlist them and before you give out the address of the property to arrange a viewing. For example, always ask them about their current employment status and try to get some idea of their financial circumstances.

Also check whether they are interested in the property for themselves or for someone else. I prefer to talk directly with the person who will be living in the property. It can be useful to have a pro-forma of the pre-worked questions you need to ask to hand, so you can complete their answers whilst on the phone. The reverse side can be the information you need to let them have about your operating procedures, for example how often & by what method rent would need to be paid.

Q: Where should I interview prospective tenants?

A: It usually makes most sense to combine the interview of the shortlisted tenants with a viewing of the property. Once you get to the stage where you are arranging a viewing, always take the landline (home or work) and mobile phone numbers of the prospective tenants. Finalise the arrangements by calling them back which confirms the details are correct.

If you have to travel in order to get to the property for the viewing, stress this and urge them to call you if they are not going to turn up. If you have time, call them one hour before the meeting time to double check they are coming.

Keep a no-show list in case people who don't turn up contact you for another property in the future

Q: How can I ensure my personal safety?

A: Always take a fully charged mobile phone with you and make sure someone knows that you are showing a property to a prospective tenant. Have a pre-worked out code word with someone you know so that you can ring them if you feel threatened. For example, if you do feel at risk, tell the prospective tenant you need to make a phone call so you can double check the Council Tax band for the property.

Interviewing prospective tenants at a property viewing, especially empty properties, can present a safety risk in particular for female landlords. They should aim to get as much information as possible from the potential tenant before arranging a viewing, and find out exactly who will be coming to view the property. Viewings should preferably take place in daylight hours and it may be advisable to meet prospective tenants outside the property. It is worth making a note of the vehicle registration number if they arrive by car.

Keep your mobile phone in your pocket (rather than handbag) and consider carrying a personal attack alarm. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust recommends making a phone call to a third party at the start of the viewing & once completed. Always trust your instincts and leave the property if something does not feel right.

Q: What do I need to know about the prospective tenant?

A: Even if you plan to carry out a tenant check before you sign the tenancy agreement and hand over the keys, you should find out some essential preliminary information about the person who will be living in your property.

The two main areas you need to cover at this stage would be their finances (how are they going to pay the rent? – Themselves, benefits, employer or parents? If they are employed, what type of work they do, where they work, how long they have been working there, whether what they earn will cover the rent etc.), and the tenancy arrangements (how many people would be moving in, for how long they want the property and whether they have children or pets).

Landlords selecting tenants for Houses in Multiple Occupation should also consider the compatibility with the other occupants as any new tenant may be sharing facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms or living rooms. You may need to find out about the person's working hours or shifts, and to check that they accept the ‘house rules' for the common parts of the property.

Please note that when selecting tenants it is against the law to discriminate on grounds of race, age, gender or disability.

Q: What information should I give to prospective tenants?

A: Tenants will expect you to provide basic information about the property such as the length of the initial tenancy agreement, whether the property is to be let furnished or unfurnished, the amount for the deposit, whether the rent includes electricity and other utilities and/or council tax bills and how much they should expect to pay for these, any references required, and how the rent will be paid. If you have all of this information readily available, it can help potential tenants take a decision about the property more quickly.

Allow viewers to look around the property, and explain how any maintenance problems will be dealt should they arise. Giving accurate information about the property reduces the risk of tenants pulling out at the last minute, or of letting the property to a rapidly discontented tenant who moves out after a short period.

Finally, while the property itself is their primary interest, most tenants also want a landlord or agent who is pleasant and friendly, and who appears trustworthy and reliable.    NLA members should mention to prospective tenants that they are members of the NLA which has its own code of practice to raise and maintain standards in the private-rented sector. If you don't have your membership card with you, the tenant can verify your membership by checking this on the NLA's website if you provide them with your membership number.

If you are an NLA Accredited landlord, make sure you tell them so that they know you are serious about your role as a responsible and professional landlord.

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