12 Must-Ask Landlord Reference Check Questions

12 Must-Ask Landlord Reference Check Questions

3 min read
Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner is an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, writer, and podcaster. He is a nationally recognized leader in the real estate education space and has taught millions of people how to find, finance, and manage real estate investments.

Brandon began buying rental properties and flipping houses at the age of 21. He started with a single family home, where he rented out the bedrooms, but quickly moved on to a duplex, where he lived in half and rented out the other half.

From there, Brandon began buying both single family and multifamily rental properties, as well as fix and flipping single family homes in Washington state. Later, he expanded to larger apartments and mobile home parks across the country.

Today, Brandon is the managing member at Open Door Capital, where he raises money to purchase and turn around large mobile home parks and apartment complexes. He owns nearly 300 units across four states.

In addition to real estate investing experience, Brandon is also a best-selling author, having published four full-length non-fiction books, two e-books, and two personal development daily success journals. He has sold more than 400,000 books worldwide. His top-selling title, The Book on Rental Property Investing, is consistently ranked in the top 50 of all business books in the world on Amazon.com, having also garnered nearly 700 five-star reviews on the Amazon platform.

In addition to books, Brandon also publishes regular audio and video content that reaches millions each year. His videos on YouTube have been watched cumulatively more than 10,000,000 times, and the podcast he hosts weekly, the BiggerPockets Podcast, is the top-ranked real estate podcast in the world, with more than 75,000,000 downloads over 350 unique episodes. The show also has over 10,000 five-star reviews in iTunes and is consistently in the top 10 of all business podcasts on iTunes.

A life-long adventurer, Brandon (along with Heather and daughter Rosie and son Wilder) spends his time surfing, snorkeling, hiking, and swimming in the ocean near his home in Maui, Hawaii.

Brandon’s writing has been featured on Forbes.com, Entrepreneur.com, FoxNews.com, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications across the web and in print media.

Instagram @beardybrandon
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Asking the right reference check questions of previous landlords is perhaps the most important of all the screening steps. A lousy tenant can disguise themselves in person and over the phone, but they can’t hide from their past actions.

Contacting past landlords is an art in itself. Current landlords of bad tenants might give a glowing reference to their tenants so that the tenants can get accepted at a new place. Even past landlords may avoid saying anything negative for fear of being sued.

Related: Should Landlords Run Background Checks on Prospective Tenants?

Generally, if you are not asking the correct questions when you check references, you will not get pertinent information. Don’t ask about rent payments and skip asking about damage. Or police calls—but not squeezing extra tenants onto the lease.

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Beware of Fake Landlords

Here’s a huge red flag: 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.

LISTEN: Real Estate Rookie Podcast—The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Tenant Screening with Lucas Hall


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.

Related: The Fair Housing Act and Landlords: What You Should Know

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.)?
  8. Were there any pets?
  9. Was the home maintained in good condition (housekeeping, lawn, etc.)?
  10. Did the tenant give proper notice before vacating?
  11. Did the tenant receive their entire deposit back after vacating?
  12. Would you rent to the tenant again?

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.

Related: How to Run a Tenant Credit Check

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.

Related: What Does a Property Manager Do? Here’s the Job Description

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.

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What do you ask when calling landlord references?

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