How To Check References of Prospective Tenants

Every landlord wants to have good and paying tenants.  If you are a landlord with an apartment, home, condo, office space, or commercial space for lease, you might want to sift the good tenants from the bad tenants.  How do you do that?  You screen your prospective tenants by checking their backgrounds and references.  In this article, you will find tips to guide you in checking the histories of your prospect renters.
Your ultimate goal in screening your rental applicants is to find out whether an applicant has a good track record.  An applicant with a good track record will almost always try to preserve his or her good record.

One way to check applicants’  track records is to use an application form that asks for such background information as personal identification numbers (e.g., Social Security, passport, driver’s license), credit history, past and current employers, current income, previous landlords, history of evictions or bankruptcies, personal references, etc.

With the information provided by the applicant, you can then run a background check.  You might even consider charging the applicant for the costs of reference checking (especially for long-distance calls).  Or, you can require the applicants to secure the supporting documents on their own.  That way, you won’t need to shell out cash.  For example, you might ask the applicant to submit a police clearance.  For that, the applicant will have to go to the local police department to request for the clearance, pay the fees, and return the report to you.  You might also ask the applicant to secure a credit report.  Many agencies issue credit reports for free or for very low fees.  If you have an Internet-connected computer in your office, you can even ask the applicant to order the credit report online and print it right away in your office.  Credit reports also include information about evictions, as well as civil or criminal liabilities.

Check the employment information given by the applicant.  You can do this by calling up the applicant’s current employer and ask about the applicant’s employment status.  Also call up the financial institutions listed on the form and inquire about the applicant’s financial status.  Get in touch with the applicant’s previous landlords and ask about the applicant’s payment record and behavior. 

The following are some of the possible questions you might want to ask your applicant's previous landlords:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • Do they pay on time?
  • Have they misbehaved?  If so, what were the misbehaviors?
  • Do they notify you immediately about repair or maintenance issues?
  • Do they promptly return your calls?
  • Are they a neat and tidy bunch?

Like previous landlords, applicants’  personal references can be a valuable source of information about the applicants’ character and demeanor.  So, call up those references, too, and inquire from them about the applicants’ relationships with their neighbors, the amiability of their and their colleague’s behavior, their treatment of the property they were renting, etc.  You will most likely find reliable information from other tenants occupying nearby spaces where the applicants used to rent.  

If you are a landlord, you will want to validate the honesty of your prospective tenant.  Cross-checking the information that an applicant provides is one way to ensure that the background information you have is reliable and accurate so that you can properly screen out applicants that could cause you potential trouble.


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