Last Updated on October 3, 2021 by Kelvin Nielsen
Reaching out to previous landlords is a crucial part of an effective tenant screening process. For one, it lets you verify several things about the prospective tenant such as:
- Their reliability in paying rent. Will they be able to pay rent on time, every time?
- Whether they are the sort that will care for your rental property. The last thing you want is to rent to a negligent or careless tenant.
- Whether they have a history of abiding by the terms of the lease agreement. Did they abide by rules such as those on subletting, smoking, and pets?
Knowing such details can help you know whether or not the tenant can be relied upon.
That said, contacting previous landlords is not always easy. It can sometimes prove daunting. This could particularly be the case if you’re simply starting out and don’t know the questions to ask. Luckily for you, this no longer needs to be the case. In this article, we have rounded up a list of 10 questions that a landlord should ask a previous landlord.
1. Can you verify the tenant’s previous apartment address?
First and foremost, verify whether the reference is actually the previous tenant’s landlord. This is important because a problem tenant can give a false landlord reference.
Now, if the landlord gives a matching address, then you can proceed to the next set of questions. If otherwise, it’ll be in your best interest to turn away the tenant.
2. Was anyone else listed on the lease agreement?
Asking whether the tenant was previously living with another person can potentially expose problematic relationships. If they were, where is the person? Why aren’t they living together anymore? This question can help you turn away tenants who are likely to be troublesome.
3. Was there anyone else living with the tenant?
Some tenants will live with other people in the rented unit without listing them in the lease agreement. While this might not sound like a big deal, it could sometimes trace to foul play such as illegal subletting. This is the last thing you want happening in your rentals, right?
So, you’ll want to ask the previous landlord whether the tenant lived with someone else. If they did, why wasn’t the person listed on the rental agreement? And why did they part their ways?
Asking these questions will prepare you beforehand should the tenant ask to accommodate this person later on.
4. How long did the tenant live in your property?
Obviously, you want tenants who will rent long-term. Among many things, long-term tenants mean you’ll have a steady income and less trouble – ideal for any landlord.
If their tenancy was short-lived, that should be a cause for alarm. Maybe they were evicted or are the type that constantly hops from rental to rental. Of course, this is the last type of tenant you want.
That said, there are justifiable reasons for short tenancies such as:
- The property owner wanting to sell.
- Job relocation.
- Desire to change the environment.
- Inability to afford rent.
- The need to upsize or downsize, and so on.
5. What was their reason for leaving?
Tenants may move out of their rental premises for a variety of reasons. While some may move due to legitimate reasons as already aforementioned, others could have been kicked out. The latter are the kind of tenants you want to steer clear of.
In particular, you don’t want to rent to tenants who were previously evicted. Regardless of the reason that prompted the eviction, they are highly likely to force you down the same road. As you probably know, tenant evictions can be lengthy, costly and laborious – they are every landlord’s worst nightmare!
6. How punctual were they in paying rent?
Another question to ask a previous landlord is whether the tenant paid their rent on time.
Of course, life sometimes happens and the tenant may no longer be able to make timely payments. As such, find out from the tenant’s former landlord whether the tenant was reliable in terms of rent payments.
And whenever they weren’t able to, did they communicate the same to their landlord? Also, did they settle the delayed payment within the agreed period? If so, that could be a tell-tale sign that they are reliable.
On the other hand, a tenant who severally missed payments or paid late or partially raises a concern. See, your investment property is a business and you don’t want to rent it to late-paying tenants.
Still on rent, also found out how much rent the tenant paid. This will help you compare and contrast whether the tenant will be comfortable paying your rent price. If there is a sizeable discrepancy, take extra precaution to confirm that the tenant’s income can cover it.
7. Did the tenant take care of your property?
While some tenants will leave a rental unit better than they found it, others will do everything possible to wreck it. So, before renting to the tenant, you want to ask the previous landlord the condition they left the property in. If they say it wasn’t desirable, enquire more to know what the problem was in particular. What damage did they exactly cause to the premises?
You should note, though, that the scale landlords use to measure wear and tear is variable. What one landlord will consider minor damage could be serious wear and tear in the eyes of another. However, this doesn’t mean you should rent your units to potential property wreckers.
8. Did the tenant keep any pets?
Another thing you can ask a previous landlord is whether the tenant had any pets. Some landlords don’t allow pets, so it’d be a cause of concern if the tenant sneaked one in.
That aside, if the landlord allows pets, you can enquire more about the pet. It could be that their dog loves to gnaw or to scratch walls and doors. So, before renting your unit to them, ask whether neighbors complained about any pets they had.
9. Would you say the tenant was in good terms with the neighbors?
Some tenants can be a nuisance to their neighbors. Among many things, they could be partying rowdily every night or having a noisy dog that can’t stop barking. You also want to find out from the previous landlord whether the tenant in question falls under this category.
10. What length did the lease agreement run?
Asking this question should help provide you a general timeline of how long the previous landlord interacted with the tenant in question. Also, it’ll help you know how recent the information is.
Preferably, ask for recent references to help you get the most current and up-to-date information. Although any reference can go a long way in helping you make a decision, the most recent information is always better.
11. Did the tenant notify you that they are leaving?
Generally, landlords require that their tenants notify them before moving out of their rented premises. Usually, the notice period is 30 days. This period enables the landlord re-advertise the property in efforts to find a replacement tenant.
So, be wary of tenants that move out without letting their former landlords know. Because, if they have done it before, chances are that they will do it again.
12. Did you refund their security deposit in full?
If they answered “no”, find out more. Landlords have a right to make deductions to their tenant’s security deposit under certain circumstances. For example, if the tenant causes damage exceeding normal wear and tear. Examples of such damages include
- A carpet that is soaked with pet urine.
- Missing or damaged door locks or handles.
- A broken toilet seat.
- A smashed bathroom mirror.
Such damages harm the value, usefulness or normal function of the property. And as such, landlords have every right to use part or all of their tenant’s deposit to cover them.
13. Would you consider renting to this tenant again?
This is a close-ended question that would best serve as the last one in this list of ‘questions to ask former landlords’.
The landlord will weigh their upsides and downsides, and give a yes or no depending on which outweighs the other. That way, you can make an informed decision on whether or not to rent to them.
Contacting previous landlords is an imperative part of any effective tenant screening process. Have you been looking to call landlord references but don’t know where to begin? Well, the above questions should get you started. Happy tenant screening!
Hi, I’m Kelvin Nielsen, an experienced landlord and accomplished real estate lawyer. My focus is on answering your questions about renting in the hopes of making your life as a renter or a landlord a bit easier.