Checking Up On Renter References

By Kaitlin Hurtado on October 14, 2021

Effective tenant screening is essential to successful property management. As a property management, doing your due diligence when tenant screening is helping you avoid problematic tenants. A step of tenant screening that is often overlooked, unfortunately, is checking up on renter references. Much like how a recruiter or hiring manager would reach out to a job applicant’s job references, you have the ability to call up an applicant’s renter references as part of your tenant screening process.

Renter references can include an applicant’s past or current landlord, or their current employer. Prior to making any calls to an applicant’s renter references, make sure you have written authorization from your applicant to do so (have a signed form as part of the rental application). RentPrep suggests the following verbiage: “I authorize the release of information from previous or current landlords, employers, and bank representatives.”

Photo: Pexels

Building a go-to list of questions for renter references

Before you start making any calls, have a list of questions ready to ask the renter references. No one wants to sit through a phone call with the other person stumbling through the conversation, so come prepared. Depending on who you are calling, there are different questions you can ask for effective screening and conversations.

At the end of the call, you want to walk away with a better understanding of the tenant. Will they be an ideal tenant for your property? Will they be able to pay their rent as expected?

Try to phrase your questions in a way that invites further discussion past a “Yes” or “No.” For example, if they say “No” to if they would rent to the tenant again, ask them if they are able to expand on their answer.

Questions you can ask current landlords: 

- Are you currently renting to this tenant?

- Does the tenant pay on time?

- Were there any complaints made against this tenant (noise, parking, neighbor)?

- Can you confirm the details of their lease/rental unit (address, lease start and end date, monthly rent amount?

- Would you rent to the tenant again?

Questions you can ask previous landlords: 

- Did you rent to this tenant?

- Did the tenant pay rent on time or in full?

- Were there ever any complaints against the neighbor (noise, neighbor)?

- Do you recall the lease agreement/unit details (property address, lease start and end dates)?

- Did the tenant maintain the rental unit well? Were there any damages or maintenance issues due to the tenant?

- Would you rent to this tenant again?

- Did the tenant offer you a reason for moving out?

Questions you can ask current employers: 

- Are you the tenant’s current employer?

- Do they work full-time or part-time?

- How long have they been employed?

- What is their position at the company?

Screening with current employers 

You may be wondering just how valuable a conversation with a current employer will be. While they can’t speak on how they are as a tenant, they can speak to an essential part of being a good tenant — their ability to pay rent as expected.

With current employers, you can verify whether or not the applicant will be able to pay rent based on the rent to income ratio. This required ratio varies between landlords, but typically, applicants would need to make 2.5 to 3 times the monthly rent. For example, if the monthly rent is going to be $1,000, the applicant would ideally be making at least $3,000 monthly.

While this information is valuable to you as a landlord, employers may not be willing to give you this information and refer you back to the applicant.

Identifying fake references and red flags

Unfortunately, not all renter references will offer valuable information — some may even be made-up references. When looking through a rental application, check the details of an applicant’s rental history.

If the applicant only lived at a property for a short period, such as a three-month period, that is definitely something you want to follow up on. Did they have a reason on the application for the short period — did they get evicted, or break the lease early themselves? Make a point to bring this information and question it during your call to the previous landlord.

When going through your initial screening of a rental application, highlight any information you would want to question during your calls to landlords or employers.

While you may think that checking up on renter references is just an extra, unnecessary step in the long process of tenant screening, it could be the very step that weeds out potentially problematic tenants you would otherwise miss during your typical process. Regardless of how fast you are looking to fill up vacancies on your property, effective tenant screening will take time and patience. Putting in time and effort into your tenant screening process will help you avoid the headache of dealing with problematic tenants later on.

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