What's your biggest problem with landlord references?

38 Replies

I'd like to know what is your biggest pain point about getting applicant's previous landlord references or giving references?

1. Landlords don't respond back to your request for landlord reference. Either you can't get a hold of the previous landlord or the landlord doesn't want to share anything about the tenant.

2. Playing the detective role of trying to see if previous landlords listed on the applications are legitimate and not applicant's friends.

3. Faxing and wasting so much paper

4. Spending a lot of time responding to multiple landlord reference request about the same tenant that is applying at multiple locations.

5. Not being able to simply check applicant's landlord references by running their credit or searching their name on some kind of central database.

6. Not knowing if the previous landlord is saying only good things about their current tenant because they simply want to get rid of the current tenant in question.

7. Fear of being sued by the tenant for providing true but negative information about their tenancy.

8. Not knowing what questions you are permitted to ask the previous landlord.

9. Other?

I don't ask and I won't give one unless you've been an exceptional tenant. I would not bother to call a number if given one. I consider them to be 99% useless - it is very, VERY easy for a smart tenant to give a fake number. Some people think they can play detective and find the owner of the building, etc, but that doesn't mean the prospective tenant hasn't also done the same homework and given the info to their friend to repeat...and how much time are you wasting doing that in the first place?!

Additionally, there are a lot of landlords that will give rave reviews to bad tenants because you just called and told them you are willing to take that bad tenant off their hands and give them a new house...what do they care if they destroy your property?

As a landlord...don't bother me, I don't care if you need help getting your next unit or not. Not my problem. You are no longer my customer why should I keep spending time to help you?

1. Landlords don't respond back to your request for landlord reference. Either you can't get a hold of the previous landlord or the landlord doesn't want to share anything about the tenant.

This one is very common. Truth be told I too am guilty of this at times. The issue is the previous landlord receives no benefit for talking to the new landlord and does carry the chance of being sued for their comments about the tenant. The lawsuit has a very low probability of happening but why risk it when there is zero upside to you?

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1. Because we're all landlords or PMs together. If I provide a signed release form and a request for verification of rental, as a professional, I would hope that other professionals would respond in kind.  We typically take two to three days to respond.  With the release, we have no fear either receiving or giving an honest answer.

@Account Closed previous landlords have no incentive to lie about a bad tenant. CURRENT landlords do. I require a current landlord reference and 3 previous (no skips).

To the OP - your point number 4 is not an issue for me. I rarely get calls about previous tenants!

I do agree with the hassle involved with getting references from some of the bigger management companies. Sending them signed consent forms, etc... Same can be said for some big employers HR departments.

At the end of the day.... totally worth it! Best way to know if they are going to be good tenants is to find out if they have been good tenants before.

I have no issues either way with landlord references. I do not have any problems separating the friends posing as landlords from real landlords and when a landlord calls me wanting background on a previous tenant I will give every detail. I would never think of withholding information from a landlord and have zero respect for any landlord that would.

In my mind there is no one lower than a landlord withholding information from another landlord.  Privacy concerns be dammed we have a responsibility to fully support each other in this business.

@James Wise you're right about the fact that there is no incentive to provide a reference. But wouldn't you want your applicant's previous landlord to provide the reference?

I guess if there were some kind of rewards system or incentive, do you think more landlords would give references?

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

I have no issues either way with landlord references. I do not have any problems separating the friends posing as landlords from real landlords and when a landlord calls me wanting background on a previous tenant I will give every detail. I would never think of withholding information from a landlord and have zero respect for any landlord that would.

In my mind there is no one lower than a landlord withholding information from another landlord.  Privacy concerns be dammed we have a responsibility to fully support each other in this business.

 Admiral thought process I suppose. Unfortunately it's just not always plausible.

Unfortunately it's just not always plausible.

And the reason why is because in this business landlords don't give a damn about the next landlord. It's a sad statement about our business and society in general.

The reason bad tenants even exist is because our business is riddled with hobby landlords that do not care about anyone but themselves. They do not see purpose in protecting the next landlord and this business has code to operate by. They bribe bad tenants to leave rather than evict and they happily pass their problems along to the next victim, I mean landlord.

Updated over 5 years ago

Sorry, should read "no code to operate by"

@Thomas S. I have found it very helpful to ask as many specific questions about their tenancy from their application to the previous landlord. Ask them to verify the move in and move out date, the rent amount, the address (make sure you ask all these questions on the application so you have it handy). Make sure to ask them for the info and do not provide the info to them i.e. "Can you verify what their rent was?" as opposed to "Can you verify that the rent was $1,000". Many times a friend posing as the current or previous landlord will not have received all this info and you can get a good idea if the person on the other line is posing or legitimate. 

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@Vitaliy Merkulov,  I understand your frustration and there's a lot of good input here already. Before I contact the current landlord as a reference, I make sure he is the current owner of that address through tax assessor's office and not the tenant's pal or brother. If it is managed by a PM or corporate office I ask three specific questions:

Did the tenant have any late payments on their record for rent and/or utilities and if so what were the dates?

Were there any tenant charges incurred by the tenant for repairs going beyond wear and tear and what repairs were done?

Were there any public nuisance complaints or HOA violations on record during their tenancy there?

Would you rent to or renew this tenant's lease?

Point is, none of these questions are vague or personal and are unlikely to get a landlord sued. Well, maybe the last one is. They can be answered yes or no with some detail that can be documented as fact.  BTW, landlords who neglect to document these late payments. etc, probably don't screen tenants  either. I also request the tenant get a printout of their payment history from the landlord, corporation or PM if available and have them email it to me. I prefer to get this printout from the company but it will require tenant consent verbal or in writing.

We have a credit background check service that screens for evictions, but if I have time, I'll  check court records myself online. I take this extra step if the tenant fits the following situations:

- No credit history or a scant one

- unpaid utility collection (this includes cable or phone)

- credit score 659 or less

Often tenants won't have contact information for prior landlords, particularly if they have been at their current residence for two years or more. If the tenant has lived in more than two places within a two year period, it may indicate instability so I would require a previous landlord reference and make sure he actually owned the property.

Whether or not the tenant's current or former landlords release information, we landlords are responsible for who we allow possession to our properties.

Hope this helps!

The response that drove me nuts was what I'd get from large apt complexes or management companies:

"If they qualified, we would rent to them again."

What does this mean?  Would they qualify if they caused problems while they were with you in the past?  Paid late?

Silly answer.  And it was becoming more common.  They must learn it in a seminar LOL.

Plus, they'd want me to fax a request from my fax machine and our letterhead.  Uh, we didn't have either ha ha.  I worked for an old school private couple of brothers - one in his 70's, the other in his 80's.  How I got around that, was showing them that my phone number was on the Yelp listing with reviews with my name on them, so they could believe who I was and I'd email a request with my Google email.  Very low tech, which was pretty funny, since most of our tenants were very high tech.

And in 8 years of managing 25 apartments, I was maybe called for a reference half a dozen times.  I always thought that was really weird.   

There are actually services that give fake reviews for tenants, fake references, and even fake paycheck stubs. 

That's why do things like run background checks/skip trace. I've never called another landlord. 

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

I do not have any problems separating the friends posing as landlords from real landlords


The funny part is you don't even know when you have been fooled...

@Chris Herbert some applicants know their way around the system so well that they provide all of their information to their friend who's posing as a landlord.

There are even "fake landlord" services that people can pay someone to act as their previous landlord. Just Google "fake landlord reference"

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to lookup an address and know who the real landlord is (or the property manager) for this address?

Can you think of a way to detect an experienced Fake landlord?

Originally posted by @Account Closed :
Originally posted by @Greg S.:

I do not have any problems separating the friends posing as landlords from real landlords

The funny part is you don't even know when you have been fooled...

 Yeah, but you do. You are dealing with a group of people who are fundamentally stupid, and tripping them up is ridiculously easy.

An ex tenant of ours had a fictitious lawyer call us up, threatening all sorts of things.  Took about 30 seconds for her to figure it out. Do you know how fast my wife can reverse lookup a phone number, pull an address, then pull up the business owner name (which wasn't a lawyer shop).

About 30 seconds.

@Vitaliy Merkulov I usually have no problem getting references for applicants.  I use a service called Resident Research, and they verify the ownership, hound the previous landlord for info, and give it all to me in a report within three days.

My biggest issue is when someone wants me to send them a rental verification by fax.  Ugh...why is this not done by email?!  I want to give you a reference, but you're making really hard on me by faxing stuff.

@Vitaliy Merkulov there isn't really a foolproof way to spot an experienced fake landlord, except with reference experience on your end. When you talk to someone who is a friend posing as a current or past landlord, it is actually fairly easy to figure out. They don't know which questions you are going to ask them to verify, if any at all. When you are talking with them you can almost always tell that they are not a landlord based on the way they discuss the reference - as if they haven't done it before. I have not heard of the fake reference services (or knowingly come across one) but I feel that when you are looking at their entire screening (current and past landlord, employment verification, credit checks, background checks) somethings would not jive with the fake stellar rental reference and throw up a flag to investigate further.

Faxing is so 10 years ago.  Why can't I email you the documents, you print them out, fill them in, and email them back to me?  That is, if I can reach the landlord at all.  Most don't reply to me. ESPECIALLY apartment complexes. Those are the worst -- they say they will get back to you then they never do.  The easiest ones to reach are the small owners.