How to Use References to Screen Tenants

by Chris on August 18, 2014

Every step of the rental application process can double up as an opportunity to screen your tenants.

 tenant screeningPrior landlord references are a good example. Rather than approaching the task as routine, see if you can generate a discussion that will reveal if your new applicant will be your tenant from hell.

Your tenant screening policy will be more effective if you start by asking the tenants the same questions you are going to ask the reference. Cross-check the list of reference questions against your rental application to make sure you will collect the same information.

Much of tenant screening is uncovering inconsistent answers between the tenant, the references, and the tenant screening reports. Little discrepancies may be innocent, or they could be the shadow of a much larger problem.  The trick is to find out as much as you can in order to paint an accurate picture.

10 Things You Need to Know About Your Tenants

When you speak with a reference, you want to make sure you are talking about the same tenant. Describe the rental applicant to the reference, or ask the reference to do the same. Last month, we shared a post, Judge Exposes Tenant Screening Mistakes, which profiled a case of mistaken identity.

Likewise, verify the address of the property so you can cross-check that with the list of addresses on the rental application.

Verify the dates the tenant was occupying the previous rental. If you want to test the previous landlord’s knowledge — or credibility — mix it up. For instance, suggest that the tenant lived there from June to May, even if you know they rented from July to June. The subtle difference can throw off a poser pretending to be the reference. Of course, it doesn’t matter when the tenant rented the previous property, but it does matter if they left mid-lease or are attempting to cover a gap in their rental history.

Find out what the tenant paid for rent during this time period, and if they were able to make payments on time. If your rent is twice that amount, you have cause to ask the tenant how they are accounting for the increase.

Ask early in the conversation whether the landlord offered to renew the tenant’s lease. This is different and far more direct than the hypothetical “Would you rent to this tenant again?” If the answer is no, get the landlord to elaborate.

See if the tenant gave notice, and what the reason was for leaving. Does that match what the tenant is saying?

It’s good to know if the tenant had a pet at that time, and whether that was authorized. Similarly, if you have a non-smoking ban, ask if the tenant was allowed to smoked at the previous rental.

Don’t end the conversation without finding out if the tenant triggered any noise complaints or reports of disruptive behaviour.

Did the tenant leave the property in good condition? Another way to ask this is to see if the tenant was entitled to a refund of the security deposit.

Ask if the previous landlord knows of any reason you should not rent to this tenant. Always end with an open-ended question that gives the previous landlord the chance to pass along anything else you would want to know before you risk a problem tenancy.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marv August 19, 2014 at 9:06 am

This is a very informative article by Chris. All too often we overlook the finer details in the tenant screening process and rely to heavily on a consumer credit/criminal/eviction report. DON’T DO THIS! Contacting current and/or previous landlord and interviewing them is extremely important if you wish to minimize your risk of rental income loss, not to mention the hassles, the stress, the property damage etc. that a bad tenant can cause. All because you didn’t follow through on contacting the current/previous landlord and
. employment history
.bank statement to verify deposit of pay checks.
Note: if you are going to extend a lease, have the tenant read and sign the Notice to Tenant form from our forms section. Start reporting tenant pay habits. Quite likely rent payments will be made on time when tenant knows that pay habits are reported.

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