The Importance of a Tenant History Check

By 21st May 2013Blog

You are a landlord with an apartment to rent and have done all the basics: the apartment is clean and in good order, you have prepared a rental agreement, and you have placed an advertisement for the apartment. You show the unit to several interested and personable applicants and now have their rental applications, which might include letters of reference from previous landlords and proof of employment. Your work is not done, in fact it is far from over. What comes next is vital to discovering which of the applicants would make an ideal tenant.

All the basic information supplied by the applicant must be verified—name, date of birth, previous address(es), phone numbers, and identity. Perhaps you think it’s unnecessary to check such basic things. But in today’s world where identity theft is becoming increasingly common, it is a step that must be taken. Keep in mind that people will go to great lengths to conceal a troubled past, one that might include fraud and other scams, and often they are quite adept at doing so. In short, any false statements at this early stage are a cause for concern.

Thus the best course of action is to conduct a thorough Tenant History Check. The first step is to contact the previous landlord(s) of the applicant to inquire about the lease dates, amount of rent, payment history, and damages to the apartment or other violations, whether minor (a broken window) or major (such as an eviction). And just because you find a tenant who has paid his or her rent on time doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is acceptable, even if a previous landlord says so. This is owing to absentee landlords, or those that are not very careful or prudent, or to unscrupulous management companies that turn a blind eye to illegal activities as long as the rent is being paid. This is the ideal time to ask if you can speak to other tenants (if you do not already have this information) who were neighbors of the current applicant. Ask about issues such as noise; whether they were friendly and sociable or kept to themselves; matters of cleanliness (were there any bug problems or hoarding issues); frequent visitors coming and going at all hours of the day and night; whether they had guests staying in the apartment for long periods of time; and any suspicious activity, as known drug use or trafficking. Provided that you promise to keep their names and information in the strictest confidence, you may find that they will be most forthright and provide illuminating details regarding the applicant.

Depending on the information obtained, you can dismiss an applicant outright, or press him or her for further details. For example, one or two isolated incidents of a minor nature can be overlooked, or one negative report among several positive ones might just indicate a previous tenant or landlord with whom the applicant did not get along. For this reason it is important to get several accounts, to give you a more complete picture of the applicant. The overall advantage of doing such due diligence is that a potential tenant will know right away that you are a very serious and detail-oriented landlord, one who certainly cannot be taken advantage of. Perhaps by so doing the weaker applicants will simply withdraw their applications, saving you further time and trouble.

While we’d all like to believe that an applicant is being forthright and sincere on his or her application, when it comes to placing someone in one of your rental properties, it’s always best to verify all information through our Tenant History Check. What you cannot afford is to be negligent, for then you will discover firsthand just how financially, legally, and emotionally draining a dishonest and troublesome tenant can be.