Background checks, credit reports, and detailed applications -- they're all smart ways landlords can screen a potential tenant for their rental properties. And if you're dealing with an experienced renter, reaching out to their past landlords is also key.
Hearing from past landlords can give you invaluable insights into the type of tenant they are, such as their payment habits, cleanliness and standards of living, and ability to follow the rules of a property. It can also give you an idea of what they expect from a landlord, service- and maintenance-wise (and whether you fit the bill).
Questions to ask
Are you currently evaluating a potential tenant? Want to check in with past landlords before going further? Make sure to ask these seven important questions.
- Did XYZ rent from you between these dates? You want to confirm both that you have the right landlord and the potential tenant is being truthful.
- How would you describe them as a renter? Leaving this question open-ended is a great way to get real, honest feedback about a person's habits when renting a property.
- Did XYZ pay rent on time, every time? Make sure to include "every time." Though one late payment doesn't spell a trend, it's still worth noting.
- What condition was the property in when they left? You want to know if the renter stayed on top of maintenance and cleaning of the property, if they caused any damage, and if they left a lot of belongings behind.
- Did XYZ cause any problems in their time at the property? Again, be open-ended here. They might bring up disputes with other tenants, excessive maintenance requests, etc.
- Did XYZ give proper notice when leaving the property? You want to be sure the tenant follows their lease agreement and gives plenty of heads up before a vacancy.
- Would you rent to XYZ again? If they say no, consider it a red flag. Ask why, and consider moving on to a new tenant.
You're looking to get a feel for the tenant and how they conduct themselves on a rental property. Remember, you're entrusting a very costly asset to them. Be thorough, and make sure they're worthy of that trust.
What you can't ask
Don't forget about fair housing laws, which forbid you from considering race, color, religion, gender, nationality, disability, and familial status when deciding who to rent to. These laws mean you also can't ask about these details when speaking with a former landlord. Instead of asking what demographics a person falls into, stick to their habits as a renter -- qualifiable details that can help you choose the best tenant possible for your property.
And if you want to be extra careful? Talk to a real estate attorney before reaching out to past landlords. They can guide you on what to ask, as well as what questions to steer clear of liability-wise.