How to Check Tenant References

No landlord wants to struggle with poor-quality tenants — those who cause complaints from others, don’t pay rent on time or break clauses in your rental lease agreements. Among the best things you can do to protect yourself from less-than-ideal tenants is to sharpen your tenant screening process. One of the most useful parts of that screening process is collecting information from tenant references.

Why Ask for References from Applicants?

Unfortunately, no matter how air-tight your screening process might be, a bad tenant could slip through. Not every person who seems like a great renter on paper turns out to be that way. 

Asking previous or current landlords, neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers about a potential tenant can really help weed out any of those that you’d rather not have on your rental property.

Frequently, asking the right questions of tenant references can provide a glimpse into what your own experience would be like with the tenant. If they always paid rent on time for several years with previous landlords, chances are good they’ll do the same for you. 

If they paid rent on time, but you discover through a reference check that they also caused thousands of dollars in extensive damage to a previous address, you’ll probably want to decline the application.

How to Spot Fake Tenant References on a Rental Application

Potential tenants might give out fake landlord reference information for all kinds of reasons. Frequently it’s because they have a bad rental history, they have no rental history, or they don’t know the landlord’s name or contact information.

There are some giveaways that can tip you off to fake information and some things you can do to find fake details, such as:

  • Asking the reference for specific information about the tenant and property
  • Cross-checking the phone number that was given
  • Checking out the tenant on social media sites
  • Checking the address of a property online

Should you discover false information, such as fake landlord references, on a rental application, it is legitimate grounds for rejecting that potential tenant.

What to Ask Past Landlords and Other Tenant References

Never underestimate the power of the screening process, especially the tenant references. You have an opportunity to get a glimpse of how an applicant functions as a tenant, so you want to make sure to get the most useful information from references in a short amount of time. 

What to Ask Current and Former Landlords

Here are some excellent questions to ask landlords, employers, friends, and family:

  • What was the tenant’s monthly rental payment amount?
  • What is the address of the property that was rented?
  • Did the tenant pay rent on time consistently?
  • Was the property maintained well?
  • Were there any major maintenance issues or damages?
  • Did the tenant have pets?
  • Were there any complaints from neighbors about the tenant?
  • Why did the tenant leave?

Perhaps the single most important question to ask a current or former landlord is, “would you rent to this tenant again?” and then ask them for an explanation of their answer.

What to Ask Employers

While it might seem strange to ask an employer about the characteristics of a potential tenant, employers are actually an excellent source of information regarding responsibility, duty, punctuality, and more. Ask employers questions like:

  • Can you confirm that the tenant is employed at your company?
  • What is the tenant’s monthly salary?
  • How long has the tenant been employed there?
  • How many hours per week does the tenant work?
  • Does the tenant arrive on time?
  • Do they get along with co-workers?

You’ll want to make sure that the potential tenant is actually employed and has a means of earning enough income with which they will pay rent.

Questions to Ask Family Members and Friends

Sometimes, applicants offer personal references on their renter applications, mostly as “character witnesses,” so to speak. Ask the following questions to get an idea of the type of person an applicant is on a personal level:

  • How do you know the applicant?
  • How long have you known them?
  • Did you spend any time at the tenant’s current or previous home? What was your impression of it?
  • Does the tenant smoke or have pets?
  • Can you describe their overall character?

Remember that taking your time and conducting an extensive tenant reference check is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and reduce your chances of ending up with a troublesome tenant.

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PayRent is on a mission to build a rent collection app that fosters a positive and productive relationship between renters and landlords. We focus less on transactions and more on the people behind them.

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