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Screening Your Tenant References – Top 3 Tips

Screening your tenant with reference checks follows pre-screening in the vetting process and should not be overlooked. Although there is some preparation involved, reference checks done well save you time, money, and heartache. Following these three tips for screening your tenant references will put you on the path to success.

  • Prepare your questions
  • Investigate and validate
  • Commit to a phone conversation

1.      Prepare your questions

Would you provide a bad reference for your friend or family member? I’m guessing the answer is no.
That’s why screening you tenant’s personal references are not the most trustworthy sources. An application with former landlords and current or past employers are more credible references by far.

2.      Investigate and validate

Run social media checks on the employer references and the tenant

Social media affects our lives. Before picking up the phone, run social media checks on every person listed on the application form.  Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media checks are another method of verifying your potential tenant and their reference’s identify and activity. Occasionally, interesting things pop up in Google, such as criminal activity, court cases, etc. Facebook is great for seeing how tenants talk to their friends, what they talk about, and whether they have pets not listed on their application.

Then, cross reference the information you have on the tenant application with your internet findings to see if they match up. Next, Google the current and former employees and note the telephone number of the company’s main reception. The main reception number is the one you will call to ask for the employer’s reference. If the company knows the employer, great, if not, busted – fake reference.  

What to ask employer references?

Employer references are excellent reference source for screening you tenant as they can verify the specifics listed in the application. Additionally, they can provide a snapshot of the employee’s work habits, conflict resolution skills, people skills, and reliability.  Employers are aware that they represent their role in the company and their business’ reputation and will typically try to answer truthfully.

3.      Commit to a phone conversation

Phone conversations are more impromptu than emailing or texting. During a call, the tenant’s reference does not have a chance to prepare answers. A phone conversation gives you a 6th sense about your potential tenant and the validity of the reference.

5 Employer reference questions

  1. How long have you known her/him? In what capacity?  They should be able to rattle off the dates, if they’re struggling…it’s suspicious.
  2. What can you tell me about her/him? Most often, employers will launch into a monologue about their employee’s most obvious traits. However, if the employer asks you to be more specific, ask about how they get along with people at work, their reliability, how the employer would describe their personality.
  3. How does she/he handle conflict? Landlords have their own ideas of tenant rules and responsibilities, and tenants often have a differing view. It’s a good idea to know who you’ll be dealing with so that you bring in people who are respectful and polite.
  4. If you were a landlord, would you rent to him/her? Why?  Often employers own rental properties and answer truthfully. Other times employers do not own rental properties, but they end up walking you through their criteria for a good tenant. Many references will mention that the employee has a steady full-time job and makes a good income, is reliable, and takes care of their work area/equipment/office. These are excellent indicators of how they will treat your property.
  5. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like me to know about her/him?  Although this may seem unnecessary, it gives the reference an opportunity to conjure up any additional facts, information, or opinions that will support you in making a decision.

During this process, the number 1 rule after you’ve asked the question is to be QUIET.  Remaining silent makes people uncomfortable and puts pressure on the employer to fill the void. When screening your tenant references, let them do 99% of the talking. The more they talk to fill the space, the more you learn.

What to ask landlord references?

Present and past landlords rely on regular payments and good property maintenance to have a profitable business. Rental history provides you with payment, maintenance, and behavioural history and make them worth their weight in gold for screening you tenant.

Again, when screening your tenant, run social media checks on each of the landlord’s listed and cross-reference it with the information on the application. If the tenant rented from a property management company or an apartment building, you could find their listing online. Property management companies have tenant records and getting access to the tenant information is pretty straightforward.

It’s not always that easy. Some individual landlords self-manage their properties. Firstly, ask the tenants if the landlord is also the property owner. If they are, there are a couple of techniques that you can use to verify if they are real landlords.

  • Call and ask if the landlord have a suite, house, condo (whatever the tenant lists on the application) for rent. If they say, “no, I don’t rent properties.” Busted! If they do, they’ll tell you.
  • Run a title search on the property. 98% the title search will reveal the landlord’s identity is the same as the property owners. But not always. Sometimes titles are transferred to relatives, children, or the landlord got married and has a different last name on the title. It’s not 100% foolproof, but it is still a big help. I’ve busted a few scammers using this method.

9 Landlord reference questions

After you verified the landlord’s identity, you’re on the home stretch for screening your tenant references. Ask the landlord the following  9 questions:

  1. How long did they rent from you? What dates? What location? Why did they leave? A property management company or private landlord should be able to tell you this information easily. If they are struggling or try to get hints from you – be suspicious.
  2. Did they pay their rent on time every month? By asking this very pointed question, you will know whether the landlord had to chase after them for rent or whether they take paying bill seriously.
  3. Did you receive any complaints? This is a telling question because it lets you know whether they were a problem tenant and what the problems were/are.
  4. Were they respectful and polite? If the tenant has excellent credit but is a pain in the neck, move on. As a landlord, you don’t need to welcome in trouble. Problem people drain your time and energy and are best avoided.
  5. Did they damage the property? This question involves a short answer for good tenants, but be prepared for an earful with bad tenants.
  6. Did they have pets? Make sure. Sometimes people say they don’t have a pet, but they pet sit their ex’s dog, cat etc. It’s good to find that out.
  7. Did they move in unregistered guests?  Again, check tenant behaviour.
  8. Did they smoke? It’s good to check this information from a former landlord to see if they smoked tobacco or Cannabis on the property.
  9. Would you rent to them again? Understand a current landlord may want to offload a problem tenant, however former landlords have no reason to lie. They no longer have the problem tenant. They’ll tell you the truth and probably a litany of details. Former landlords are the best source for a tenant reference.

Final Words

Unfortunately, no one system is 100% foolproof for screening your tenant’s references. Having a thorough reference process and a few techniques up your sleeve can significantly impact your ability to weed out the good from the bad tenants. After all, as you know, good tenants are the foundation of a profitable property, a reference process helps stack the odds in your favour.

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Nelda Schulte is a property investor who is passionate about helping investors who self-manage have profitable investment properties through resources and education. If you struggle with the wrong landlord forms, or worse yet, no landlord forms check out Nelda’s 10 Essential Editable Landlord Forms that help you separate the good tenants from the bad and increase your property’s profitability.

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