Have you found somebody who you think might be a great tenant for your rental property? To be completely sure a tenant will be a good fit, landlords should complete a thorough reference check to find out what a potential tenant’s previous rental experiences were like.

Reference checks are often the final stage of the tenant screening process. They’re important because they give landlords the opportunity to fact check the information a tenant provided on a rental application. Plus, you may learn something about the applicant that he/she wouldn’t disclose to you personally, like if they had a dispute with a previous neighbor or roommate.

There are obvious benefits to talking to your applicant’s references, but what exactly should you be asking them to get the most out of your reference check? This post covers tips for talking to references, questions you should ask previous landlords and roommates, and the value of it all.

How to Get the Most Out of a Reference Check

References are only useful if they’re honest, clear, and relevant. So, how can you ensure that the references you get for a potential tenant paint an accurate picture of what they’ll look like as a renter? You can start by following these four tips:

  1. Establish trust: Take your time establishing a degree of trust and confidentiality with references. It’s likely they were chosen because they have a positive impression of your prospective tenant, but to get an accurate idea of what their experience was like, let them know you are seriously considering this applicant and that the conversation will be kept private. This way, you can feel confident in the honesty of their answers.
  2. Phrase questions carefully: How you ask a question is extremely important when looking for detailed and specific answers. Some references may only want to sing the applicant’s praise—but you need to know about shortcomings just as much as you do successes. So, as an example, instead of asking, “What didn’t you like about this person?”, try asking, “What could this person improve on?”.
  3. Ask open-ended questions: Some questions require only a yes or no answer. This is called a closed-ended question and is totally acceptable in certain scenarios. But, the more open-ended questions you ask, the more you’re likely to learn. Asking open-ended questions forces a person to put more thought into their answers.
  4. Be prepared. Write down any questions you might have about the tenant while you are still in the screening process. Keep these questions and the rental application in front of you when you’re making calls. This will give you control over the conversation, ensure you get all the information you’re looking for, and reinforce your appearance as a professional.

Reference Check Questions to ask Landlords

Talking with the applicant’s previous landlord is the best place to start. This person can give you an idea not only of what you can expect, but also what the tenant might expect from you. Here are some questions to help get you started.

Questions to ask about the property:

  • What is the address of the rental property?
  • How long was the tenancy?
  • What kind of maintenance responsibilities did the tenant have?
  • What kind of vehicle parking was provided?

Questions to ask about the rent:

  • How much was the monthly rent?
  • How would you describe the tenant’s ability to pay rent?
  • What was the preferred method of payment?

Questions to ask about relationships:

  • How did the tenant communicate with you? How often?
  • What could this person do to be a better tenant?
  • Why did the tenant leave?
  • Describe your overall experience with the tenant.

Reference Check Questions to ask Neighbors and Roommates

Neighbors and roommates can provide a deeper insight on what this tenant is like to live with. For this purpose, you’ll want to ask these references a slightly different set of questions.

Questions to ask about general knowledge:

  • What is your relationship to the tenant?
  • How long have you known the tenant?
  • What was your living arrangement like?

Questions to ask about personality:

  • How would you describe the tenant’s lifestyle?
  • How does the tenant spend his/her free time?
  • How would you describe the tenant’s living space?

Questions to ask about relationships:

  • What did you like best about living with/beside the tenant?
  • What kind of disputes, if any, did the tenant have with you or other tenants?
  • How were these disputes resolved?
  • What do you think the tenant could do to improve as a roommate/neighbor?
  • Describe your overall experience with the tenant.

Why Tenant Reference Checks are Valuable

The information you learn during these reference checks could push you in one of two directions: either you accept the applicant, or not. The decision is entirely up to you. Though, it certainly helps to get all the information possible before officially signing a Lease Agreement Form that you might regret.

Reference checks can confirm the applicant really is who they say they are, which will save you both time and money in the long run. That’s why they are so important when selecting the best possible tenant for your rental property.

Posted by Jasmine Roy

Jasmine has been writing for LawDepot since 2018. She is a writer with a passion for politics, law, and sociology. She's particularly interested in writing about real estate and family law.