Avoid Counterfeit Landlords

A huge red flag is some sneaky tenants will ask a friend to pose as their previous landlord. One way to find out if the person you are speaking with is really a landlord is by first calling and asking, “Do you have any vacancies?” before any reference questions. If it’s a friend, they will quickly be thrown off, whereas a landlord will simply answer your question.

Ask for verification of the tenant’s rental specifics, such as the address, lease term, and rental amount. A friend posing as the tenant’s landlord most likely won’t have this information.

Sample Reference Check Questions for Landlords

When calling the rental candidate’s references, be courteous and respectful of the previous landlord’s time. First, explain who you are and that you are calling with reference check questions. Then ask if they have a moment to talk.

Make sure to ask a consistent set of questions during every reference call. Standard questions keep you on the right side of fair housing laws—discriminatory questions may come back to bite you.

Here are the best questions to ask.

  1. Did tenant stay for stated period?
  2. What was the monthly rent?
  3. How much of the rent did the tenant normally pay?
  4. Did the tenant always pay rent on time?
  5. Were utilities on and paid in full at all times?
  6. Did anyone else live with the tenant(s)?
  7. Did the tenant(s) ever receive any legal notices (late rent, noise, unauthorized occupants, notice to vacate, etc.)?
    Were there any pets?
  8. Was the home maintained in good condition (housekeeping, lawn, etc.)?
  9. Did the tenant give proper notice before vacating?
  10. Did the tenant receive their entire deposit back after vacating?
  11. Would you rent to the tenant again?
  12. The answers to these reference check questions will tell you a lot about your applicant. And if you hear anything strange, make sure to ask follow-up questions.

Before ending the conversation, always give the previous landlord the invitation to offer any additional thoughts or comments about their experience with the tenant. When getting references from the applicant’s previous landlords, always get a minimum of two so you can compare and check for consistency.

Current Landlords vs. Previous Landlords

Do not rely solely on asking reference check questions of a current landlord. You don’t know their motivation for giving a good or bad reference. A past landlord has nothing to gain or lose by being honest, whereas a current landlord may not want to lose a good tenant or may be overly excited to get rid of a bad one. Both situations may affect the legitimacy and integrity of their reference.

Some landlords or property management companies will require the tenant’s release of information signature before they will give out any information about that tenant.

What to Do if Applicants Don’t Have References

Some applicants won’t have any—or limited—rental references, usually due to their age or being prior homeowners. Technically, this may not meet your qualification standards, because you can’t ask your standard reference check questions. Your options in this case are to:

  1. Decline their application
  2. Accept them without references and take the risk, assuming everything else about them is stellar
  3. Require a cosigner
  4. Require an additional security deposit if that is allowed in your specific state.

The option many landlords choose is #2—accept them without references, asking for an additional security deposit f everything else about them indicated they would be a good tenant, we would simply require additional securities like those we just covered.