Chapter 5

Five Questions to Ask Prior Landlords

You are reading our guide

The Complete Guide to Tenant Screening

Asking Prior Landlords Questions

Reaching out to prior landlords will give you relevant insight. After all, prior landlords can tell you about a tenant’s behavior.

Our rental application requires that tenants provide at least five years or more of residence history along with landlord contact information.

With that contact information, you can begin reaching out to a tenant’s prior landlords. At Rentalutions, we eliminate this extra work for you. We automatically send an email to your prospective tenant’s prior landlords, so you don’t have to.

Below we’ve listed the five questions that we ask prior landlords. Let’s say your prospective tenant’s name is John. After John fills out his rental application, we automatically send an email to his prior landlords asking the following questions:

  • Can you confirm that John rented from you?
  • Did John pay his rent on time?
  • Did John reasonably take care of the rental property?
  • Was the unit clean and in good order when John left?
  • Was John disruptive to other tenants or neighbors?

In the future, we’ll even let you customize these questions. In the meantime, if you have additional questions (or if the landlord doesn’t reply to our email), we recommend calling the prior landlord yourself.

When you receive a completed rental application in our software, it’s easy for you to see a landlord’s response:

Rental History

What should I do if my tenant doesn’t list a prior landlord?

It’s possible your tenant won’t have prior landlords if the tenant has been living in a dorm or at a parent’s house. It’s also possible the tenant owned a home and decided to switch to renting.

In the Rentalutions application, you can’t leave prior residences blank. The tenant must list some residence, whether it’s a dorm, a parent’s house, or a previously owned home.

If a tenant doesn’t have a landlord for you to call, you can rely on the tenant’s credit check and tenant employment reference. You can also ask for a co-signer to add to your sense of security. But if a tenant has a solid financial history, it’s probably fine that they don’t have a prior landlord.

Why should I reach out to the tenant’s current and prior landlord?

Current landlords may have a reason to lie if the tenant is a nuisance. The landlord will say anything to ensure the tenant has a place to move to. Prior landlords, however, don’t have any motivation to lie because the tenant is out of his or her property.

What additional questions can I ask a prior landlord? 

If you call prior landlords, you can ask additional questions and read tone of voice. Some of our questions below are designed to help you spot a fake reference.

It’s possible your prospective tenant will list a family member or friend as a prior landlord. One way to find out is to call and ask the landlord if he or she has any current listings. If the person is not actually a landlord, he or she will not know what you are talking about.

If a tenant leaves a fake reference, this is a red flag. It usually means the tenant has something to hide, possibly bad behavior or an eviction.

Below are key questions you can ask to help you spot red flags:

  • Confirm that the tenant was indeed a former tenant of the landlord.
  • Confirm the address and the dates that the tenant lived there.
  • Ask, “I have the rent price listed as $[rent price]. Is that correct?”
    • One technique for spotting tenant scams is to purposefully say the wrong rent price and see if the landlord can correct you.
  • Ask if he or she ever filed court papers against the tenant.
  • If a previous landlord has filed any court papers against the tenant, then this is a huge red flag and warrants good reason to reject a prospective tenant.
  • Ask if the tenant ever violated any terms of the lease.
    • This includes damaging the property, not paying rent, hosting loud parties, or doing anything illegal on the property.
  • Ask if the landlord asked for a renewal. If he or she did not, then ask why.
  • Ask the landlord, “Would you ever rent to the tenant again?”

What kind of past behavior is good or bad? 

Past Tenant Behavior

Final Thoughts 

The goal of reaching out to prior landlords is to find out relevant information. You want to determine if the applicant will be a quality tenant.

If there have been no red flags up to this point, then it’s time to ask your prospective tenant to authorize a tenant credit report and background check.

Continue reading below to learn everything you need to know about credit and background checks, including how to request one and how to analyze it.

And check out this article to find out- will your tenant screening be successful?


Also published on Medium.

 JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER

Get new landlord content direct to your inbox monthly.