There are a lot of moving parts to the application process, but one you won’t want to gloss over is rental history. It’s an important predictor of how potential tenants will treat rental payments and care for your property. After getting applicants’ written permission to verify rental history, landlords generally reach out to the applicants’ current and prior landlords from the past two to three years. It may seem daunting to cold call these references if you’ve never done it before, but armed with some knowledge and preparation, you can feel confident about doing this. So, how do you prepare for these calls? And what should you expect during these conversations? Let’s dive in.
Prep Your Questions
Before you place a call, prepare your questions. Here’s a list of questions that can guide you as you create your own.
Rental History Questions
- Responsible parties
- Were these tenants the responsible parties on the lease?
- Rental dates
- When did they move in?
- When did they (or will they) move out?
- Rental costs
- What was the monthly rental amount?
- Did this amount include utilities?
- Rental location
- What is the full address of the unit they rented from you?
- Late or no payments
- Did these tenants pay rent on time?
- How many times did they pay late rent?
- Do they owe you any amount for rent (including utilities) or damage to your unit?
- Did a check from them ever come back “non sufficient” funds (NSF)?
- Notice to vacate
- Did these tenants give proper notice to vacate according to their contract?
- Security deposit
- Did you keep some or all of the security deposit because of property damage?
- Legal measures
- Did you serve a “3-day notice” to these tenants?
- Did you file an unlawful detainer against these tenants?
- Was the tenant evicted?
- Do their files include neighbor complaints or noise complaints?
- Did they have pets while living in your unit?
- Tenant-landlord relationship
- Would you rent to these tenants again?
Now that you’ve prepared your questions, here are some things to expect and look for during your phone call with your fellow landlords.
You can probably relate to the fact that landlords are busy people. It may be tough getting through to them. If the landlord, or property manager, has an assistant, ask what time of day is best to reach out so you can proactively try again. Keep in mind that some rental properties may require you to send a rental history request form by email or fax along with proof of your applicants’ approval in order to obtain this information. While you may get less information from a landlord this way, even a basic response will offer you helpful insights.
While it’s generally not illegal for prior landlords to disclose their personal opinions about whether you should rent to someone or not, expressing an opinion either way could get them in trouble. For instance, if they tell you only positive things about the applicants and neglect to mention negative things, you could possibly sue them down the road for offering misleading half-truths. On the other hand, if they say negative things, the tenant could attempt to sue them for defamation. This means that law-savvy landlords will request a copy of applicants’ written permission before they give out any information—and they’ll only offer you factual information they can back up with documentation, like rental terms, property locations, number of late rent payments, and the like.
Some landlords may want to rid themselves of current problem tenants. If these landlords aren’t legally savvy, this desire to offload tenants may lead them to offer you only positive information. For a measured perspective, measure what current landlords have to say against the feedback of prior landlords.
Sometime applicants put down fake references—friends or family members who are willing to pose as landlords. If applicants have had rocky relationships with their prior landlords, they many not want to give you their complete rental histories. If this is the case, there are a couple ways you can assess if they have given you fake landlord references: (1) use public property records to research the referenced property and its listed ownership before calling the landlord, and ask the landlord about anything that doesn’t seem to make sense from your research, and (2) keep your questions open ended and ask property-specific questions that you can verify on your own.
Now that you know what to generally expect during these calls and how to prepare for them, you can place them confidently. If you want to save time, you can purchase a Checkr or RentPrep report through the TenantCloud portal that includes these services, and they can take this time-consuming task, along with the entire background check research, off your plate. As always, be sure to check your local laws to understand any area-specific nuances that may differ from this information.
If you have any thoughts or pieces of advice on this topic, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your insights!