The references you get from the applicant are as important as any other information you can get. There are certain references you must have.
First, and most obvious and foremost, is landlord references. Previous landlords will tell you most about what kind of tenant the applicant was. Even though many are hesitant to say anything bad about a tenant for fear of lawsuits, you can still find out an amazing amount of information simply be asking leading questions. Two questions you want to make sure you ask are “Did you know the tenant is moving?” and “Why are they moving?” or “Why did they move?”
Second, employer references can provide information about what kind of person the applicant is. You can also ask questions of the employer you might not be able to ask legally on the application, such as number of children, etc.
Third, personal references are always going to be friends or relatives of the applicant. If they are hesitant about saying something nice about your prospective tenant, you have a definite reason to suspect that the applicant will not be a good tenant. Also, check the addresses and phone numbers of the personal references to see if they are the same as any of those of the landlord references or employer references. Some bad tenants would be stupid enough to do that.
Use the phone book and/or directory assistance to verify that all the names, addresses and phone numbers on the application match — that’s for landlords, personal references, employers, etc. I cannot stress the importance of doing this too much. Professional bad tenants will have their friends pretend they are landlords and employers. If one thing doesn’t match, they’d better have a good explanation. If more than one thing doesn’t match, reject them.
If you want to make sure that you are talking to the real landlord, call the customer service department of a title company or the county tax assessor’s office. Just give them the address of the property, they’ll tell you the name and address of the owner of the property. Then make sure the name you get is the same as that of the landlord reference. In addition, many counties’ tax records are online. You can find out the owner of the tenant’s previous residence by checking there and avoid having to go through voice mail hell with the county.
If the prospective tenant has just sold his house, ask for the name of the real estate agent who sold it for him. If he doesn’t remember, that might make you suspicious. If he sold the property himself, ask for the name and phone number of the buyer.
When you call the real estate agent or buyer, ask about the condition of the property, the sales price, the amount of equity in the property, and anything else you think is pertinent. Ask who the lender on his home was. Call the loan officer, as well.
People who are moving from out of town are high risks (especially if they have no personal references). Find out why they are moving into the area.
You can check to see if their references’ names, addresses and phone numbers match by checking with directory assistance. “I would like the phone number of Jim Johnson who lives at 1234 Elm St. in San Diego, California.” And call all out of town references: the money will be well spent.
Check at the county court house for criminal record and/or eviction record. Or pay $20 (or less) and have a tenant screening service pull a public records report as well as a credit report for you. If they have either a felony conviction or an eviction, it could very well end up costing you big bucks to rent to them.
From the book Profitable Tenant Selection available from Cain Publications, Inc. For more information on this publication, go to Profitable Tenant Selection