Six Steps to Checking an Applicant’s Past Rental History

A typical third-party background check won’t show you what a rental applicant’s attitudes, temperament and rental-payment history are like. Speaking to past landlords will provide you with a snapshot of your potential tenant’s past rental behavior and act as a barometer of how the tenant will treat both you and your property. If you have more than a couple of single-family rental units, some form of multifamily leasing technology can be very helpful in organizing information.

1) Assume the Right Mindset

As a landlord, you have both the legal and moral right to collect information on your applicants. One investor approaching another for help, and possible friendship, is easy and most fellow property owners will be happy to assist you. As a tip, plan to contact previous landlords at the start of the screening process, as some individuals, and especially some management companies, can be slow to respond. n.

2) Understanding the Tenant’s Mindset

Most prospective tenants won’t oppose a request to check their past rental history, unless there is something to hide. Sometimes, a prospective tenant may give you a seemingly justifiable reason as to why he does not want to provide you with a previous landlord’s contact information. Be firm and insist on a contact number. There are a few reasons a landlord may give you a poor reference that have nothing to do with the applicant. These reasons typically include something the landlord didn’t like about the renter, such as:

  • Being from another country
  • Coming in late
  • Non-native English speaking
  • Complaining about real issues, like a broken water heater
  • Opposing political points of views

All of these types of reasons are wholly unprofessional and, of course, should be discounted.

3) Acquire a Rental-History Agreement Release

A Rental-History Agreement Release can be a separate agreement or a just a paragraph in the Tenant Application. Where needed, this agreement provides you with legal permission to contact previous landlords and many rental companies require written proof your applicant has agreed to share their personal information. The release should include:

  • Personal identifying information, such as a driver’s license number and DOB
  • Previous addresses and rental amount(s) for the past two years
  • Landlord’s contact information
  • A sentence authorizing you to contact previous landlords
  • A photocopy of an ID

This is where some type of multifamily leasing technology can be extremely helpful in keeping information organized.

4) Create a List of Questions

Develop a list of questions you want to ask previous landlords, including:

  • What dates did the tenant reside on their property?
  • Were all payments made on time?
  • Was the tenant ever served any type of notice?
  • Was a lease renewal offered?
  • Has the tenant give notification of their intent to move out?
  • Did the tenant observe property rules?

5) Making the Call

Be brief and to the point, but polite. Ask for the landlord by name and state you are calling to check on one of their tenants. Be sure to take notes and ask follow-up questions.

6) Seize the Opportunity to Network

Once you have gotten the needed information, thank the landlord for their time and ask if there is anything you can do to help their business? Ask the landlord to lunch, to network, and let him know you would be happy to pay a finder’s fee for any leads he provides that pan out.