Posted about 5 years ago

Top 10 Questions to Ask a Past Landlord When Screening Applicants

So it's time to advertise your rental and start screening the applicants in your quest to find the perfect tenant.  More often than not, the people who apply to rent your property are probably already renters somewhere else.  That can be a good thing for you because it means they have a past history with another landlord (or maybe several landlords).  

Why is this important?  Because in all likelihood, their past rental history and how they treated their previous home and landlord (good or bad) is going to be the best indicator of what kind of tenant they'll be with you.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CHECK LANDLORD REFERENCES?

Well, the first thing you need is to know who their previous landlords are.  You should be asking for the names and contact information for their current and previous landlords on your rental application.  

I also recommend having applicants sign an authorization form so you have written permission to contact these landlords.  Most smaller mom-and-pop type landlords usually won't ask for it, but larger property management companies and apartment complexes almost always do.  So it's better to have it just in case.

WHICH LANDLORDS SHOULD YOU CHECK WITH?

Ideally, all of them.  At lease those that the applicant has rented from during the past five years or so.  Some people don't bother checking with the applicant's current landlord because they feel that person has an incentive to be untruthful and may try to pass off a bad tenant as a good one just to get rid of them.  That may be, but I'd suggest contacting the current landlord anyway because you really don't have anything to lose and you may gain some useful insight.  However, just be sure to take whatever they tell you with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, previous landlords can be an invaluable source of information because the applicant has already moved on from their property so they really have no reason not to be completely honest with you.  If the applicant was a terrible tenant and destroyed the property, rest assured you'll probably hear about it in detail from a previous landlord.

WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD YOU ASK THEM?

This is probably the most important part and the number one stumbling block for many people.  After all, once you have the contact information for the applicant's previous landlords, what in the world do you ask them?  Ideally, you want to ask them questions that serve two purposes.

First and foremost, you want to elicit information about your applicant that can help you make an informed decision on whether they'll be a good tenant for you.

Second, and perhaps just as important, you want to ask them questions in a way that helps you determine whether the person you are speaking with is (or was) really the applicant's landlord.  Believe it or not, some applicants don't want you to find out that they destroyed their previous rental home or that they left owing their last landlord thousands of dollars in past due rent.  So what do they do?  They usually provide the name and phone number for a family member or friend as their previous landlord and hope that you don't find out.

That's why I like to ask questions that are designed to help determine if the person you're speaking with was really their landlord.  One way to do this is to limit the number of questions that require a simple "yes or no" answer because they're too easy for anyone to answer.  

For instance, don't ask "Did Mr. Johnson rent the property at 123 Main Street from you?"  Their friend could easily say yes to that.  Instead, ask "What was the address of the property that Mr. Johnson rented from you?"  A legitimate landlord would certainly know the answer to this question, but a friend might not.  Get the idea?

Now on to the information you came here for....

THE TOP 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK A PAST LANDLORD:

1)  What was the address of the property that (applicant) rented from you?

2)  What dates did (applicant) reside at your property?

3)  What is/was their monthly rent amount?

4)  Did (applicant) ever pay rent late or miss any payments? If so, how many times and when?

5)  Did (applicant) ever have any checks returned due to non-sufficient funds? If so, how many times and when?

6)  Did (applicant) cause any damage to the property?

7)  Does (applicant) currently owe you any money for any reason? If so, how much and for what?

8)  Any complaints received regarding (applicant) or their unit while they lived there?

9)  Was (applicant) ever served a Pay or Quit notice, eviction notice, or asked to move? If so, what was the result?

10)  If you had the opportunity, would you rent to (applicant) again?

There you have it.  After obtaining all this information, you should have a much better picture of your applicant and whether they'll be a good fit for your rental property.  

Keep in mind that this is just one aspect of what should be a comprehensive tenant screening process, but an important aspect nonetheless.


Comments (7)

  1. Thank you!!!


  2. This is awesome, thanks for sharing!!!


  3. Thanks for posting these tips!


  4. Kyle J.

    Thats very useful information for a newbie. Thanks so much for sharing and educating us. 


  5. Great questions!

    I'm working on my first rental house.  Now I know what questions to ask!


  6. Kyle! This is a great post. Thank you. There's so much value here for investors of every level of experience. For anyone reading this: if you're doing your own tenant applications, print this post off and put it in your operations manual; if you have a property manager doing this work, print this off and give it to them ASAP.


    1. Thanks Kent.  I appreciate the feedback.