Tip #33

Ask the Question, “Would You Rent to Them Again?”

Written on September 3, 2013 by , updated on October 7, 2014

crossroadsSince the dawn of time, landlords around the world have been refining the art of tenant screening.

Tenant screening comes in all shapes or sizes.  There are multiple companies that offer credit reports, background checks, and criminal records – all of which are important and should be included in the overall screening of an applicant.

However, the most valuable intelligence that I can gather on an applicant, usually comes from a previous landlord.

Step 1: Get an Tenant Application and Consent

Ask the applicants to fill out a Rental Application and Consent to Background/Reference Check. The “consent” form gives you permission to investigate them, and gives you a formal document that you can provide to the previous landlord without having to disclose the tenant’s sensitive info.

On my rental application template, I force all applicants to list their previous landlords.

Step 2: Cross-reference landlords with the property owners

Then, I match the landlord’s name and address with the local real estate public records (which are usually available online) to make sure they didn’t give me a false contact (i.e. their “buddy”).

This cross-reference usually only takes 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Call the Landlords

classic phoneOnce I verify that the landlord listed on the application, does in fact own the properties, I will contact each landlord by phone.  If they are stubborn about answering your questions, you can send them the consent form that the applicant previously filled out.

I have a series of questions that I always ask, which include:

  • Did your former tenants pay rent on-time, every month?
  • Did they damage your property in any way?
  • Did they submit too many (or too few) maintenance requests
  • Did they have a lot of parties?
  • Did you ever get any complaints from neighbors or police?….
  • and my favorite; “would you rent to them again, why or why not?

The landlord’s response to this last question will tell me sooooo much more than a credit score.

Why is this important? The previous landlord has first-hand experience, and if they would not re-rent to your applicants, then you probably shouldn’t either.

photo credit: Julia Manzerova and lioliz via cc
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23 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • ann

    good advice but I am finding that people will lie to me to get bad tenants out of their properties—-not very nice but it is happening in Hobe Sound, FL

    • Lucas Hall

      I agree with Lars, the way to offset other lying landlords is to ask the tenant to list their past 2 landlords. The prior landlord has no reason to lie.

      One other trick I learned was to quiz the landlord on the start and end dates of the lease that they had with your applicants. The real landlord will be able to tell you, but the applicant’s buddy who is posing as a landlord, will have a hard time with the exact dates.

      • Hye

        If you’re investigating without a license, you could get fined and could face criminal charges depending on your State’s laws. You could also face claims of discrimination, retaliation, violations of State and federal Fair Housing Acts, Property Code Violations, various other State laws and statutes. You’re opening yourself up to lawsuits, potential libel, slander, and violation of HIPPA. “Complaints from neighbors” is heresy; police don’t “complain”, they state facts. “Damages”, “Maintenance requests”, and “timely payments” go the way of part of the lease contract while a “party” could be a sit-down dinner for four. And “someone renting *from* you” is just as relevant as you renting *to* them.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Hye,

          Can you give an example of a state with a law that says a landlord can’t call references and ask questions? If so, I’ll add it to this articles for others to benefit from.

          Please don’t confuse judgement with discrimination. There are plenty of things a landlord is allowed to judge the applicant on – such as past performance, rent payment history, pets, smoking, etc. As long as the item in question is not a protected class, it usually can’t be considered the type of discrimination that you are referring to. With that said, anyone can sue anyone for anything.

          • Hye

            Hi Lucas,

            Unfortunately, a few landlords see themselves as enforcers of their chosen code of morality because unmarried straight couples and gay and lesbian couples are not protected by anti-discrimination laws except in a few states. This means that in most states it would not be illegal for a landlord to question you and your would-be roommate about the nature of your relationship. That line of questioning bodes for future dealings with a landlord: a business person who is inappropriately interested in their customers’ private lives. That’s when judgment can flip into discrimination, and towards violation of other applicable laws. With that said, you’re correct (as anyone can sue anyone else, for anything).

  • Lars

    Good point. I also found it important to ask the landlord prior to the current one. He/she has no vested interested in getting rid of or providing a false referral.

    • Lucas Hall

      Thanks Lars. Current landlords definitely have a conflict of interest when referencing a bad tenant that they are trying to git rid of. My general rule is: if I feel like I’m being lied to, I probably am. I’ve found that even if a previous landlord lies to me, a credit check on the applicant will usually flush out any false positives.

  • Steve

    All good suggestions on screening. Too, evaluating the prospective tenant ‘up front’ before any formal screening is another way of avoiding the troublesome tenant. Additional information can be found on my post at http://www.cflpropmanagement.com/you-might-not-want-to-rent-to-them-if/. I would consider social media another good source for screening as well

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Steve,

      Yes, using social media is an excellent way to research a potential tenant. Most people allow for some public visibility on facebook, and therefore you can learn about their hobbies (illegal or not) by the photos they post. If they have posted photos of their current residence, it will at least give you a vision of how well they will clean your place..

      By the way, nice article. I was a big Jeff Foxworthy fan a number of years ago.


    Hi Lucas,
    Have an own-your-own in Long Beach (not rent controlled). We are putting it up for sale and wanted to know do we need to get the tenents approval (signature) to put a lockbox on the door or do we just need to notify her when the property is being shown and is there a rule about the amount of notice we are required to give her?
    Thanks so much…I read every post and love your website and have learned so much thanks for all you do for everyone, it’s really appreciated! :)

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sheila,

      I don’t have any experience with OYO’s, so I’m not the best person to ask. Here are my comments though.

      – In many counties, the tenant has first right of refusal to buy the place – so you’d have to get their waiver before selling it to anyone else. Check with your local realtor to see if you need this.

      – Lockboxes are the typical method of showing properties for sale. Anyone who enter’s the property would still need to give proper notice. You should check the CA state laws page for rule on notices: http://www.landlordology.com/california-landlord-tenant-laws/#notice

      As you can imagine, other Realtors don’t always provide the appropriate notice, so it’s something you should mention in the listing. There will inevitably be times where a Realtor shows up unannounced and annoys your tenants. Try to handle it calmly. Good Luck!!!! I hope it sells quickly.

  • C Graves

    Hello, I have a quandary regarding my now-previous landlord.

    My girlfriend and I were tenants in an apartment for over 2 years, fulfilling our lease terms to a T – no late payments, no damage, minimal cleaning upon move-out, and always complying with landlord requests.

    After move out, however, my girlfriend questioned the validity of a cleaning charge, and she was responded to with personal insults from the company’s owner. I called to express my disappointment with such treatment, and a verbal argument ensued.

    We are now concerned that we will receive a negative reference on the “Would you Rent again?” question, despite meeting every tenant obligation, and overlooking that the landlord failed to meet some of their obligations (insufficient entry notice, delayed repairs, no walkthrough documentation on move in/out).

    What actions can you recommend to avoid being recommended against on the sole basis of our post-lease disagreement? Any advice would be most helpful. Thanks!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi C Graves,

      Well, there’s not much you can do. You don’t want to volunteer that information to your new landlord, but you also don’t want the previous landlord to bad mouth you. Volunteering that info might incriminate you before the reference check is even made.

      I’m usually a proactive guy, but in this case, I would just wait until there’s a problem. If your future landlord receives a bad reference about you, I would hope that he/she would be wise enough to give you a chance to defend yourself.

      Other than that, if you actually incur damages due to the previous landlords false accusations, then you might potentially have a lawsuit against him/her – but you would need to talk to a lawyer to be sure. Good luck!

  • Liz

    Can you not rent to someone because of information received from social media? If the previous (or previous x 2) landlord would not rent to them again, is that good enough not to rent to the applicant?

    Thank you very much for your answer.


    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Liz

      It would depend on the information received on social media and and long as you are not discriminating against a protected class. For example, I had an applicant tell me that he didn’t drink or smoke but his Facebook pictures said otherwise. I rejected his application for lying to me and falsifying information.

      Further, a landlord is allowed to use info from the previous landlords – that’s why you call them. In the end, you can deny someone because of a bad reference – especially if they listed that person as a reference.

      I hope that helps, please know that I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Becca

    I am the tenant . My landlord will tell my potential LL that she wouldn’t rent to us again. Which is not fair because she’s being unreasonable . She had a bad run in with my man one day over my car parked off the driveway. Well my boyfriend has never met her .When we moved in I did all the applications.Well she slammed her books on my car and.He reacted because he didn’t know who she was and she got into it with him. I came outside and I tried to say something but she told me if I open my mouth then we can Be out tomorrow. I was dumbfounded. Then she shows to a potential renter.But she did not give 24 hour notice .instead was 5hr. bf was angry so she called me and said ugly things to me about him, She insisted I leave him bc of his behavior.
    She insisted I leave him bc of his attitude .I guess the girl who showed our place was listening to us argue about the house showing. It was not a good day, but we all have those days. He was mad we only got 5 hour notice and that I let them come. I told them I’ll b home so it’s ok but to give me the proper notice in future showings. She called me and said she was ecstatic that we have our notice .She said if he took anger management then she’d reconsider renting another property to us. She met him once and the situation escalated because of her. Then she herdthat he was rude during showing. So she told me I won’t find anything to rent and that if it was just me I’d still be here .I think it’s silly of her to black list us for this. right?
    The potential LL has sent a form to my current LL and has called. She still hasn’t called the new LL back to verify information . This looks bad on my current LL, right? I know she will say she won’t ‘re sign us again because of “attitude” problems from my bf . But there’s more to it than what she’s claiming .We are perfect tenants .We have no animals. We don’t smoke. We pay on time for 3 years with 2-3 one day late payment with added late pay fee, all in which I notified a week in advance .
    The only problem she has is with my bf . I’m white he is black. I don’t know if this is a discrimination thing or if she’s naturally rude natured. She claims it’s.Only his anger. But our track record is perfect .Credit is 650+ Will she ruin our name?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Becca

      All I can say is that if you feel you are being discriminated against, you should talk to a lawyer. But keep in mind, if your lease is up for renewal or you are month-to-month, a landlord doesn’t “have” to renew.

      Now that you know that your former landlord won’t provide a good reference, maybe you should try looking for an apartment complex that won’t check former references.

  • Mike Richardson

    My previous landlord (before my current landlord), sold their property to developers and demolished the apartment building and went out of business. How would any information be verified with such a landlord?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mike

      Sometimes it’s just not possible to reach the former landlords or managers. So, a landlord should just do the best they can to screen an applicant with the info they have.

  • Audrey

    All landlords are truthful, honest, completely trustworthy and don’t ever abuse their power, right? We have lived in our apartment 4 years. We weren’t notified before we signed our lease that they planned to renovate every unit. They cut granite inside the units and in the downstairs backyard, covering our belongings in silica dust and it got into our apartment. We got sick due to inhaling the dust. This happened 3 times over the course of 2 years. We asked the manager to use a wet saw and they ignored our requests. 1 year ago we received a new landlord who has her elderly mother living with her who happens to smoke cigarettes late in the evening. I complained. She denied it and terminated our tenancy because I threatened to withold rent.

  • Elly

    I’m with you. I prefer blogging to forums. I think it is a great way to interact with new people and keep up with old friends. It is often hard to find time to connect with old friend by tepnehole, but blogging can be done when we both get time.

  • Jenn

    My management company has given me a ‘non-renewal’ notice for paying rent late for some time now due to thee loss of child support. This loss coupled with medical issues in the last 10 months, I just couldn’t get it fixed. I always signed a promise to pay, paid in full the rent plus late fees. I recently landed a job with Mayo, huge raise! Iv’e been on time with my rent for the lat two (2) months. Would it be a futile attempt to write a letter to the manager or management company explaining how I’ve taken steps to correct the late rent, offer them an additional deposit and beg not to move? Any suggestions? Help.

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