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Landlord Insider
On the Landlord Insider blog, you’ll find some excellent resources for landlords of all sizes. From the latest landlord news, to professional advice, tips and guides for landlords, there’s something for everyone. Brought to you by the excellent team behind the Landlord Vision property management software.

17 Questions to Ask Former Landlords During Referencing

Too Many Questions. Pile of colorful paper notes with question marks. Closeup.

Tenant referencing is a critical part of finding a new tenant. It can sometimes be a pain contacting a former landlord, but by speaking to a tenant’s previous landlord, you can verify a number of things…

Checking a tenant’s references is all part of the due diligence process. Taking the extra time to ensure your prospective tenant is reliable, responsible means you might save yourself a lot of pain further down the road.

Questions you Should Ask Your Tenant’s References

If this is your first time checking a tenant’s references, or you just want to be more prepared, we have a list of questions for you to have to hand. Write them down and keep them close by when you make that phone call, jotting down anything that warrants further investigation.

Can you verify the address on their previous property?

A simple question, but it helps to verify the person you are talking to is their actual landlord and not someone they’ve asked to give a reference to tick a box.  

Who was listed on the tenancy agreement?

If the previous landlord reveals that there was someone else on the tenancy agreement, follow this up with the tenant. Find out where that person is now and why they are no longer living together. This may potentially reveal troublesome relationships. If your tenant later asks for this person to be added to the tenancy agreement you’ll be able to make an educated decision on this.

Did the tenant live with anyone else?

Similar to what we’ve said above, it’s good to know if the tenant was living with anyone else even if they weren’t listed on the tenancy agreement. You’ll also want to know why they weren’t listed on the tenancy agreement and if the tenant isn’t living with them anymore you’ll want to know why. Again this will highlight any troublesome relationships, can also be an indicator of illegal sub-letting and will give you a heads up if the tenant asks to move this person in at a later date.

How long did the tenant live in the property?

A tenant who didn’t stay long may be cause for concern. There may of course be legitimate reasons for a short tenancy, such as the landlord wanting possession to sell or move back into the property. If you’re looking for a long term tenant though it helps to know if the tenant doesn’t tend to stay around for long.

Why did the tenant leave?

It’s good to verify the reasons a tenant has given for moving on from their previous property. If a tenant has given notice because they want to downsize, upsize, be closer to family etc then you know whether they’ll settle happily into your property. Asking this question of their previous landlord will help to highlight any discrepancies in what your tenant has told you and will reveal if there were any issues with the previous landlord.

How much rent did the tenant pay?

This can be useful information to have– for instance, if the tenant paid a lot less rent in their last property but their income hasn’t increased, ask yourself if they are able to commit to the rent you’re asking for.

Did the tenant pay their rent on time?

If there were any issues, investigate further. Sometimes life gets in the way, so don’t automatically rule out a tenant who’s struggled to pay rent at some point or another. Where there were gaps in rent payments it’s important you ask the other other landlord how these were dealt with. For instance if the tenant contacted the landlord right away to discuss the issue and then rectified the late payment and eventually paid up in full they are clearly responsible and can likely be trusted to rectify any issues that occur during their tenancy. A tenant who is willing to work with the landlord on any issues will be willing to build a strong landlord tenant relationship.

Did the tenant pay their utility bills?

Again this can indicate that the tenant is responsible. As with the previous question if there were any issues it’s worth finding out how the tenant dealt with these.

How well did the tenant communicate with you?

As a landlord you want to build a good relationship with your tenant and where a tenant doesn’t communicate its difficult to do that.

Was the property well maintained?

Find out from the previous landlord if the tenant looked after the property when they lived there. If the landlord tells you the property wasn’t well maintained ask follow up questions to find out what the problem was. Remember things like this are subjective. There are landlords out there who hold tenants responsible for even the smallest signs of wear and tear. If the landlord tells you that there were issues find out what these were and keep that in mind when making a decision about letting to the tenant.

Did the tenant have any pets?

Find out from the previous landlord if the tenant had any pets. Not all landlords allow pets, so if a landlord tells you that a tenant moved a pet in without permission it might be a red flag. If you’re the kind of landlord that does accept pets though you can learn more about the pet. Here you can find out if there were any complaints from the neighbours about pets or if there was any property damage left behind. This can help you decide if you want to let to a tenant who has a pet and tell you more about how responsible your prospective tenant is.

Was the tenant on good terms with neighbours and other tenants (if applicable)?

Ask the landlord if they had any complaints about the tenants from neighbours. If they did ask for further details to find out what the problem was. Remember some people will complain about the smallest things. One noise complaint due to the tenant having their TV on too loud one night is different to frequent noise complaints.

How much notice to quit did the tenant give?

Whilst unexpected things may sometimes cause a tenant to move out on short notice, it doesn’t make life easy for the landlord. Be wary if a landlord says their former tenant gave little or no notice when they moved out..

Did the tenant cause any property damage?

If a former landlord tells you that the tenant caused a lot of property damage you likely won’t want to rent to the tenant. Make sure to get context from the former landlord. If the landlord says there was damage caused by the find out what the damage was. More importantly find out how it was dealt with. Did the tenant rectify the damage, was money deducted from the deposit? Accidents sometimes happen and you wouldn’t want to rule out a tenant who may have caused damage but also put it right afterwards.

Did the tenant get their deposit back in full?

If the answer is no, ask why not. Accidental damage to fixtures and fittings is a legitimate reason but there are some reasons that might indicate the tenant didn’t take care of the rental property.

Would you be happy to rent a property to this tenant again?

This is a good question to ask and with all other questions make sure to find out what reasons the landlord has for their answer.

Contact more than one previous landlord

The more thorough you are when referencing a tenant, the better. To gain a better picture of the applicant, contact more than one of their references, so you can cross-reference the information given to you.

Take What you are Told With A Pinch of Salt

Don’t take the information relayed to you as the gospel truth. Even if a landlord isn’t deliberately being economical with the truth, s/he may be mistaken about the person you’re enquiring about. Landlords managing multiple HMOs populated with short-term tenants can be forgiven for being confused about tenants.

If there is a chance the person you’re speaking to might be confused, do cross-check the information provided with other references.

Referencing Red flags

Be wary if a landlord reference is very vague in their responses. It could be because they are not sure who you are referring to, or it could be that they are not an actual landlord. Be suspicious if the person you speak to is overly casual in their language and seems a bit clueless. You should also be very suspicious if their former landlord is full of gushing praise and can’t say enough nice things. Unless the landlord had a close personal relationship with your prospective tenant, it’s highly unlikely they will give glowing praise.

If you have any suspicions, steer the conversation on to general landlord topics to see if they know what they are talking about. Ask them how many properties they manage, whether they can recommend a good letting agent, etc.

Watch out for discrepancies in the information you receive. If things don’t quite add up, it could be that the applicant isn’t being honest about something.

Red flags include:

  • Tenants who were evicted
  • Unresolved rent arrears
  • Tenants who left early
  • Property damage

Signs of a Good Tenant

The aim of tenant referencing is to verify the information the tenant gives you. What you want is for their former landlord to confirm the tenant:

  • Paid their rent on time
  • Looked after the property
  • Was easy to deal with
  • Got along with neighbours and fellow tenants

Anyone who can’t tick all of these boxes might be a larger risk to rent to.

We hope this list of questions has shed some light on the things you need to ask a tenant’s former landlord. Let us know if you have any other questions you think are pertinent, so we can update our article. You can reach out on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!

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