Tenant Screening Tips: Previous Landlord References

by Chris on July 18, 2016

Speaking with your rental applicant’s current and previous landlords is a crucial part of the overall tenant screening process. Unfortunately, too many landlords skip this step. That may happen because the credit report checks out, or because the applicant seems nice.

tenant screeningIt takes a little bit of time to collect all of the applicant’s references, but skipping this important piece can lead to serious income loss. In fact, some landlords have met their tenant’s previous landlords for the first time while waiting to testify in court during eviction proceedings — after they were out tens of thousands of dollars.

Obtaining a reference can be accomplished by following these three steps:

Step One

Confirm the reference’s identity. Asking a friend or family member to pose as a landlord reference is a common scam. Use your best judgement to determine if the contact is, in fact, the current or previous landlord.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. One strategy is to ask landlord-to-landlord questions about the property — something an amateur wouldn’t be knowledgeable about. Also, it may be possible to use public records to confirm ownership of the tenant’s current or previous residence, or to use a reverse phone number service to confirm that the name and phone number match. And, of course, there is always the option of meeting the landlord reference face-to-face at their property.

A related problem is establishing that the applicant being vetted is the same tenant that the landlord reference is describing. In one case, the tenant assumed a valued tenant’s name and identity in order to receive a glowing reference.

Landlord Tip: An overly enthusiastic reference could be just that — or, you could be talking to a friend of the tenant. Rarely, another landlord will offer glowing praise in order to pass along a problem tenant. Ask specific questions and try to get the contact to provide details, not hyperbole.

Step Two

Get the information that you need. That requires a script or similar plan prior to making contact. It’s helpful to have the rental application and any other notes in front of you as you speak with the reference.

At a minimum:

Confirm the address of the property and compare that to the rental application.

Confirm the dates that the applicant rented there.

For current landlords, ask if the tenant is leaving at the end of the lease term. Did he or she give notice?

Discuss the tenant’s rent payment history. Did they pay on time?

How well did the tenant care for the property? With former landlords, ask whether the tenant left the unit clean and restored.

Did the tenant cause disturbances or generate complaints from other tenants or property owners?

If you have specific rules such as no smoking, ask if the tenant smoked in the previous rental property.

Always include a more sweeping question like, “Are you aware of any reason I should avoid renting to this tenant?”

Step Three

Assess the information. How does it square with your impression of the tenant? With other references?

When making a determination whether to rent to the applicant, rely solely on objective data, such as payment habits. Do not consider subjective statements like, “I didn’t really like her,” or “Something about him always bothered me.”

Always keep an open mind when tenants have disputes with previous landlords. Don’t allow personality conflicts to dictate whether the tenant is qualified. If, on the other hand, the reference has specific reasons for doubting the applicant’s qualifications, listen to the advice.

Before deciding to rent, be sure to run a credit report on the tenant. Likewise, speak to the references, even if you have a clean credit report. Don’t rely on any single aspect of tenant screening. Instead, use these tools in tandem and watch for any inconsistencies in the information. That’s your cue to dig a little deeper.

Landlord Tip: TVS Tenant Verification Service has created a tenant database, Landlord Credit Bureau.  The information in this searchable database is provided to Equifax Canada, a major national credit reporting agency. Canadian member landlords simply sign up to Report Tenant Pay Habits, and that information then can be provided to other landlords via the tenant’s consumer credit report. Confirm good tenants and at the same time flag repeat offenders — those who habitually cause income loss.  It’s a great way for landlords to help one another!  

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.

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