4 Questions to Ask Tenant References

The landlord reference check is a crucial step that you should never skip in your search for great tenants. We’ve all been deep into tenant screening and thought we found the right renters, but skipping this one simple step could cost you big time.

Here’s a common situation. Your new prospective renters have filled out your rental application and they’ve cleared the background, credit and rental history checks. Your prospects seem ideal, but this doesn’t mean that you should be ready to sign the lease just yet.

Many people look good on paper and come off as responsible or charming in person, but one crucial stage of the tenant screening process is to actually pull out your phone and call past landlords to do a quick reference check. In under five minutes, you can get the real scoop on your potential inhabitants. It’s quick, easy and could save you a lot of issues, and money, down the road. Here’s a short list of the four most important questions to ask tenant references before you both sign on the dotted line.

4 Reference Questions to Ask Past Landlords

1. Was the rent consistently paid on time?

After your initial introduction of who you are, we suggest you lead with this question. It’s simple, the person on the other end of the line most likely expects it and will probably have an answer for you. If you lead with something open-ended or complicated, you may not get all the information you could get by asking that question later in the conversation. A responsible tenant pays on time, which makes your life as a landlord much easier when you don’t have to worry about chasing your renters down or sending out late payment notices.

2. Did they take good care of the property?

Houses get used, so normal wear and tear shouldn’t be a major concern to you, but you do want to know if there were any major issues caused by the renters’ abuse or neglect of the property. If the answer includes explanations of what was wrong, follow up this question by asking, “Did they communicate with you about issues, concerns or problems?” Gauging if your potential tenants will contact you before small issues become large ones can save you time, energy and cash.

3. What can you tell me about this person?

By now you should have some rapport with this other landlord and their brain is probably churning with all the things that have happened throughout their relationship with your hopeful new tenant, so asking an open-ended question should bear some fruit at this point. What you are trying to do here is to uncover anything that could raise a red flag. Just because a possible tenant is financially suited to rent your property, or has passed other background checks, doesn’t mean that they are not disruptive or problematic. Maybe the tenant called the landlord every week to unclog their toilet, constantly got noise complaints from the neighbors or never responded to emails or calls when the landlord requested access to the property for maintenance. You’ll learn a lot by asking this question, just remember to get out of your own way and give the person on the other end of the line space to answer.

4. Would you rent to them again?

This is usually a simple yes or no answer, but push a little here and follow up with “why?” You’d really like to know the reason they would or wouldn’t rent to this tenant again. Even if the answer is YES, it doesn’t mean the renter is right for you and your property, so try to get an explanation on this one.
Although there are tons of other questions you can ask during this call, these four reference question will allow you to easily assess if your new tenant is a good match for you and your goals as a landlord.  Just be sure not to skip this simple step, the answers you get are probably things that won’t show up throughout the rest of your formal tenant screening. Good luck landlording!

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