When doing rental screening, have you...??

8 Replies

So I've always called the previous landlords on our tenant's application.. However as of lately I'm seeing a dramatic increase in the number of landlords who are unwilling to just give me a couple quick yes/ no answers and are stonewalling any questions saying something along the lines of "I'm not able to/can't/ not allowed to answer that."

Are you aware of anyone or have you been sued over responding to a reference call or anything along those lines? 

Not asking terribly in-depth questions, but usually 

1. Did they Pay on time and give proper notice?

2. Did they take care of the property/ leave it in good condition?

3. Would you rent to them again?

I understand bigger management companies the person answering the phone may not know about that specific tenant and want you to fax/ email in a request.. But a lot of these lately have been from little Mom & Pop companies with a handful of units, or individual owners.

I don't think it comes down to a legal issue. It is a matter of laziness. They are "done" with that tenant. Have you ever had your phone ring and it's a solicitation? You immediately think UGH and want to get off the phone as fast as possible. I think that's what it is. 

In dealing with smaller, independent types, what you are describing has become more common.  Even I am limited in what I will share for simple concern around liability.  And of course, I require requests in writing.  

That said, I tend to give the most recent landlord little weight for concern that they will be more than happy for a problem tenant to go somewhere else.  I tend to focus more on why the tenant is looking to move, signs the previous landlord is shocked or upset to get a call from me since the tenant has not given notice etc.  It is more less an absence of red flags that helps form the initial impression.  I couple that with credit score, collection records from past landlords, judgments, evictions etc.

In order to verify timely payments to independent landlord types, i ask the tenant to show the last 6 months cleared checks to prove when rent was paid and the checks cleared.....or other forms of payment confirmation.  If cash, then I don't give it much, if any weight.

And I always drive by houses occupied by the tenants to see how the exterior of the property has fared, assuming they were responsible for upkeep.  

At the end of the day, you are taking a risk and you have to make the best decisions you can with the information you have available along with your intuition and of course at all times must obey all fair housing, anti discriminatory laws or practices.

I rarely call previous landlords.  I know almost immediately after meeting someone if they will be a good tenant or not.  Additionally, if they have income, credit, little debt, clean car, and are clean looking then that reinforces my gut feeling.  

I have seen this with one local company, they say they don't share info and don't check with other landlords either.  I had one applicant they wouldn't share info on, called the landlord previous to that and they were still owed money so I rejected the tenant and told them why.  They asked if I knew of anyone in the area that didn't check references, I knew where to send them!

You also have to be careful here- if it's a current tenant they may lie just to get the tenant to move on.  And sometimes you find out they want to move in March and their current lease is up in August...


I have heard of tenants suing landlords for libel/slander if a previous/current landlord said anything negative about them.  I don't know of any cases personally, but that's the reason I've heard as to why some landlords don't divulge any info about current/former tenants - they don't want to get sued.

I've heard of similar situations about employers not saying anything regarding current/former employees.

I've never had a previous landlord not give info on a tenant when they answer the phone. Some have never returned my call, but oftentimes, we've stayed on the phone after verifying the information, sharing war stories. I've had 2 previous landlords offer to sell me some of their properties. For management companies, they always want a faxed copy of the tenant's signed application, on which I include a clause stating I will be verifying rental and employment history. 

I've only rarely been called by a future landlord of a tenant. It just happened last week. The tenant is excellent and I gave her a great reference.

I've found landlords of problem tenants more than happy to warn me about getting involved with them. I ask the same 3 questions that  @Chris Harkins   does.

I agree with Bryan Neal....I do my own screening and very rarely contact the previous landlord in case they have not given notice.  One of the questions I ask is if they have already given notice.  Since rents overlap on occasion, and since the applicants are aware of this, I find it easier not to call present landlord.

I have no problem receiving calls from landlords as long as they have signed approval, in writing, to give out information.  Then I ask them to sent me an email or fax with a copy of the signed authorization.

I do know other landlords who do not return calls as they are afraid if they answer honestly, then the tenants won't get the rental and the landlord will be stuck with the bad tenants.  

Also, not all tenants react the same with different landlords and different situations...it could possibly have been the landlords attitude, failure to do repairs, etc., that prompts a bad review on the tenant.

I have sort of the opposite weird situation. I had a tenant  bring their old landlord to see the apartment with them. They became friends when they were renting from this landlord. It was really strange. I did rent to them and the tenant turned out fine but I wasn't sure what to make of that one when it happened. 

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