Landlords and property managers can provide a wealth of information about a rental applicant, including whether he can be relied on to pay rent on time, keep his home in good shape and get along with the neighbors. Incorporating references from an applicant's current and previous landlords strengthens your screening process and can help you avoid future tenant conflicts.
Get complete contact and rental information for each previous landlord or property management company from the applicant. This includes names, phone numbers and email addresses. You should also ask the applicant for the dates during which she was a tenant in each landlord's property. Landlords or property managers may need tenancy dates to look up the applicant's file.
Develop a list of questions for landlords and property managers and have this list handy when you call to verify the reference. Alternatively, you can develop a printed renter reference form that you can fax or mail to previous landlords and property managers. Include questions about the tenant's rent payment history and the condition of the rental unit during and after the tenancy. You should also ask whether neighbors or police filed any complaints against the tenant and how well the tenant got along with neighbors, the landlord and the landlord's or property management company's employees.
Contact the previous landlord or landlords by phone or email to request a reference. If you plan to use a printed reference form, email the form as an attachment or ask for a fax number.
Review the information provided by the landlord or property manager and follow-up, if necessary, to clarify information.
If possible, contact more than one landlord, particularly if the landlord you are in communication with is the applicant's current landlord. The current landlord may be inclined to give a positive reference simply because she wants the tenant out of her building. Previous landlords might be more forthcoming about the applicant's shortcomings as a renter.
Property management trade associations sometimes offer background screening services and preprinted tenant reference forms as a membership benefit. Contact trade associations in your area to find out if they offer tenant screening resources. Local governments also sometimes offer these services to landlords.
If you use a third-party tenant screening service, familiarize yourself with federal and state consumer reporting laws. These laws require landlords to notify and provide documentation to applicants when the landlord denies a rental application, or takes another type of adverse action, because of tenant screening report information.
Don't rely exclusively on a landlord's reference when deciding to rent to a tenant, as the "landlord" may be a friend, relative or even a representative of a company that provides fake references. Order a complete background check on the tenant that includes a criminal and credit history before approving a rental application.
- MSN Real Estate: How Smart Landlords Handle Rentals
- Tenant Verification Service: Tenant Reveals How to Scam Landlords
- Small Property Owners of America: How To rent
- Federal Trade Commission: Using Consumer Reports: What Landlords Need to Know
- Nolo: How to Screen and Select Tenants FAQ
- California Apartment Association: Membership Benefits
- City of Lakewood, Ohio: Lakewood Discount Tenant Screening Service
- Zillow for Pros Blog: Questions to Ask a Renter’s Previous Landlords
- Tenant Verification Service: 5 Questions to Ask Your Applicant’s Previous Landlord
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