To help ensure that you choose the right tenants, savvy landlords put potential tenants through a screening process that includes background checks and references, including from former landlords.
Some landlords will just ask for a list of past landlords and hope that applicants who list them were good renters in the past. You should, however, take the time to check these landlord reference letters.
You not only want to confirm that they are valid but also want to glean information to help you decide whether the potential tenant would be a good fit for your property.
Look for Signs of Fake Landlords
One of the first things you want to confirm is that the landlord is legitimate. Some renters will hope you do not check and provide completely fake information, while others may have a friend pretend to be a past landlord.
The most obvious sign that it is a fake landlord is if you call the number provided and the wrong person answers. You could also try calling the number and asking about rental properties. This could throw fakers off, but it could also lead you to ignore some legitimate requests. An example would be if a property owner sold their properties instead of renting them.
To spot a fake landlord, you will typically have to pay closer attention to the conversation you have with them. Short answers can be a red flag. You could also look for public records to confirm the owner of the property matches the landlord’s name.
What to Ask the Landlord
When you talk to an applicant’s past landlord, you obviously want to know whether you should consider renting to the applicant. There are some obvious questions to ask, such as:
- Did they pay rent on time?
- Did you have any problems with them?
But you also want to think outside of the box a little bit. Also, consider questions, such as:
- How much was the rent? How much of this was the tenant responsible for?
- Did the tenant end their lease early?
- Did the tenant give you proper notice before leaving?
- Did the tenant receive legal notices?
- Did the tenant have any pets?
- Was the property well-maintained?
- Did you return the tenant’s full security deposit?
- Would you consider renting to them in the future?
These questions will provide you additional insight into factors such as whether the tenant is likely to be able to afford their rent payments, whether they are likely to pay rent on time, and whether they are likely to damage your property.
For example, the security deposit question lets you know whether you may have to put time into repairing the property after the tenant leaves. The pet question may indicate if a tenant is trying to hide a pet from you.
Always Ask the Same Questions
Ideally, you should create a list of questions that you always ask when talking to a past or current landlord. This consistency will help ensure you do not accidentally ask discriminatory questions that could land you in legal trouble.
Take Current Landlord Comments With a Grain of Salt
As you talk to the landlords, remember that you are more likely to get honest answers from previous landlords. Current landlords may have ulterior motives that influence their answers. For example, if your applicant is a really good tenant who always pays on time and is quiet, they may consider lying or stretching the truth, so the tenant is forced to stay.
Do Applicants Need Landlord References?
Not every potential tenant will have landlord references. Some may have only previously lived with family members or been homeowners. You can decide what to do in these situations, but remember to be consistent in your approach. You cannot deny one applicant without landlord references but give another an opportunity, as this could leave you open to a discrimination claim.
One of the most common alternatives is to take the risk and just ask for an extra security deposit, in cases where that is legal. You could also opt for personal references instead or ask for a cosigner.