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Verify Tenant References and Get Accurate Information with These Tips

When you screen tenants, one of the things you do is to make sure that their references are legitimate. There's a huge chance that lousy tenants will write down the names of people who can vouch for them. For example, their friends and family members. This is especially true if they've had a bad relationship with their previous landlord.

Here are ways to tell whether the references listed on the rental application are real. We'll also be sharing tips on interviewing these references:

1. Call a previous landlord and ask, "Do you have any vacancies?"

This is a simple trick that will help you spot a fake landlord. If the person on the other side of the phone isn't really a landlord, he or she will be distracted by your question. Ask about vacancies first rather than diving right into specifics. 

2. Start with the tenant. 

Before calling the references indicated on the rental application, interview the potential tenant. Essential qualifying questions you should ask over the phone include the following:

  • What is your reason for moving?
  • What is your monthly income?
  • Will you be able to provide the security deposit and first month's rent upon moving in?
  • How many people are living with you?
  • Have you ever been evicted before?
  • Will you consent to a credit and background check?

>>Read: Essential Questions to Ask in a Rental Application 

3. Research the reference. 

Make sure that you do your own research prior to speaking with a reference over the phone. The internet is a good place to get information about the reference and previous rental property where the tenant supposedly stayed. Any discrepancy is a red flag. For instance, if you're finding out about a previous landlord, simply type in the landlord's name into Google to know if the person exists and if the person is what the tenant claims he or she is. 

4. Prepare a series of questions that you will ask each reference. 

Whether you're calling a previous landlord, current landlord, or employer, it's good to have a list of questions ready. Preparing a list of qualifying questions before the call decreases the chances of you skipping a question that yields essential information. If it's an employer, ask about the prospective tenant's position, the date the tenant was hired, and his or her salary. If it's a previous or current landlord, ask about whether the tenant paid rent on time, possible complaints filed on the tenant, evictions, and the presence of pets. 

5. Avoid close-ended questions. 

To get detailed answers from a reference, it's best to ask lots of open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are the type of questions that aren't answerable by a simple "yes" or "no." Open-ended questions allow the person on the other end of the line to think and give a thorough explanation. The result is that you will get a clear picture of the prospective tenant. 

6. Keep the tenant's application on hand.

While you're speaking with a reference, keep the accomplished rental application form beside you. Listen carefully to what the reference says and cross-check the answers that were provided by the tenant. If you spot any discrepancy, don't hesitate to bring that one up. 

Final Thoughts

Calling a tenant's reference is an important step in screening. Checking references and interviewing them the right way help you pre-qualify a tenant. You can get a feel of the tenant's ability to pay, his or her honesty, and how responsible the person is. It's better to take more time in screening a tenant than to deal with costly evictions and lawsuits.

If you’re ready, make Landlord Prep your go-to resource for landlording education. Here, we offer a complete DIY landlording course to get you on the right track. Join our academy today. If you want, you can check out Flavia’s real estate investing webinar first!