Screening Applicants: Contacting Landlord References -Don't Skip this Critical Step
Oftentimes, you’ll have an applicant who looks “good on paper”. They have a high credit score, steady employment, and meet your income requirements, but is this information alone enough to gauge whether they are a good tenant? The short answer is NO, and that’s where the landlord reference comes in.
Contacting prior landlords affords you the opportunity to receive first-hand information about how your applicant behaves in the capacity of a renter. Here is an example: You have a “good on paper” applicant who you are considering offering a lease. You contact the applicant’s landlord from 2018-2020 who tells you they paid rent on time and kept the apartment clean, but they were rude and abrasive to maintenance staff, had frequent overnight guests, and threw several loud and raucous parties. The landlord says he would not rent to them again. By contacting this landlord, you’ve learned critical information that was not disclosed in their application but is equally as important as their credit score and income. Using this additional information, you make an informed decision and send the applicant an adverse action letter, denying their application based on negative rental history.
Other times, a positive landlord reference could compensate for minor deficits in an application. Maybe an applicant has a decent application, but they have a credit score of 675 and your minimum requirement is 700. You’re on the fence about them, so you call two of their prior landlords, both who can’t speak highly enough of them. They paid rent on time, kept their apartment in tip top shape, were accommodating when you needed access for inspections or showings, and never caused any disturbances. Both say they would rent to them again without hesitation. In a case like this, the positive reference would be enough for me to overlook the small discrepancy in their credit score.
The bottom line is that if you’re not talking to former landlords, you’re not getting the whole picture.
Here is a sample Landlord Tenant Reference communication and a list of questions to ask. You can paste it into the body of an email, create a pdf, or use it as your script when making contact by phone.
Hello, my name is ____________________ and I own a rental property in Berkeley, CA. ________________ (applicant name) has submitted a rental application, listing you as their former landlord at _________________________________ (address) from ____ to ____ (dates of occupancy). I would appreciate if you could answer a few questions pertaining to your experience renting to the above-named applicant. Thank you in advance for your time.
- How much was the monthly rent?
- Did this tenant have roommates who shared the rental expense?
- Were rent payments on time and in full?
- Did this tenant observe your guest policy?
- Did they add any persons or pets to the occupancy without your permission?
- Did you receive any nuisance complaints about this tenant (noise, parties, etc.)?
- Did the tenant give proper notice that they were moving out?
- Did the tenant take good care of the property?
- Were they billed for any damages upon move-out?
- Would you rent to them again in the future?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about this tenant?
Be prepared! A by-the-books landlord will refuse to answer questions unless provided with proof of the applicant’s consent to a background check. If you’re making contact by email, attach your applicant’s consent to save time.