Just because a potential tenant seems great on their written application does not mean they are the type of high quality tenant you are seeking.
Beware of Fake Landlords
- Hi, I'm calling to verify the residence of "applicant's name"
- He/she filled out an application and listed you as a previous landlord.
- Can I ask you a few questions?
Here's a huge red flag: Some sneaky tenants will ask a friend to pose as their previous landlord. One way to find out if the person you are speaking with is really a landlord is by first calling and asking, "Do you have any vacancies?" before any reference questions. If it's a friend, they will quickly be thrown off, whereas a landlord will simply answer your question.
Ask for verification of the tenant's rental specifics, such as the address, lease term, and rental amount. A friend posing as the tenant's landlord most likely won't have this information.
Also, try to get more than one rental history. I ask for the last five years of rental history and will check with all old landlords. I want to make sure the facts line up, such as dates that tenant occupied a certain address, the amount of rent paid.
Questions to Ask
Was rent was paid in timely manner, or were there late payments or NSFs (not-sufficient-funds checks)?
Did this applicant take care of the property?
Was there any damage on move-out?
Did the tenant get their full deposit back?
Did the tenant have unauthorized pets or guests, or any criminal activity?
Did the tenant get along with neighbors, or was there friction - maybe noise late at night, etc.?
Did the tenant give prior landlord 30-day notice of vacating?
Would you rent to this tenant again? This is the big one. If a previous landlord hesitates to recommend a tenant to you, you may want to rethink their application.
Current Landlords vs. Previous Landlords
Do not rely solely on asking reference check questions of a current landlord. You don't know their motivation for giving a good or bad reference. A past landlord has nothing to gain or lose by being honest, whereas a current landlord may not want to lose a good tenant or may be overly excited to get rid of a bad one. Both situations may affect the legitimacy and integrity of their reference.
Be sure you have proper written authorization from your tenant applicant to make these calls. This authorization typically is included on the rental application.
Make sure your applicant is aware you will be calling their current landlord. You don't want to be the one to break the news that they're moving.