How to Read Between the Lines When Contacting Landlord References

You have a weird feeling about a potential tenant, so you pay special attention to your due diligence when you're screening the tenant. Their landlord references provide you with all sorts of glowing information, or bare minimum but positive information. You go through a tenant screening service and don't find any problems there, either. Sometimes you go against that gut feeling that you had and let them stay, only to find out they're the sort of tenant who is going to give you a headache day in and day out. What happened? Either you were fed false references or the landlords wanted to get rid of their tenants. Here's a few tactics to figure out what the references are actually saying.


Evasive Answers
One of the biggest lies a problem tenant tells will be about their landlord references. If they're worried about a bad reference, they may avoid their actual landlord all together. You may end up with a friend who has been coached on what to say to you when you call. Since most of a problem tenant's friends probably aren't landlords, an extreme amount of hesitation when answering questions - or not answering at all - are telling signs. Ask non-standard questions the applicant's friends won’t be coached on, such as whether the applicant had parties or what major maintenance requests were submitted by the tenant.

Who Owns the Property?
One way to figure out if your prospective tenant isn't being truthful about their landlord references is looking at who actually owns the property in question. This is not a foolproof way of knowing one way or another, as the tenant may have been in a sublet or roommate situation, or the landlord could use a property management company. It's a good idea to use this as one piece of evidence to back up your gut feeling, especially if the reference doesn't seem to have a clue what they're talking about.

Angry or Aggressive References
On the flip side, some landlords may be sour that their tenants are considering moving. If the current landlord comes off as aggressive or angry about the tenants leaving, see if previous landlord references match up. If you get great references from previous landlords, and only the current landlord is angry, it's possible they are giving a bad reference simply to prevent the loss of their tenant. You have to consider all evidence and angles when it comes to figuring out whether to go with a prospective tenant or to pass on them. If you think that the landlord is lying, especially when it comes to something a tenant can prove like on-time rent payments, ask the applicant for additional information. If the prospective tenant can prove they are paying on time or otherwise discredit the landlord's information, you have an easier decision ahead of you.

Inconsistent Stories

Keep track of the stories applicants and landlords tell about their experiences, especially when it comes to specific facts. Talk to the applicant about their current rental situation and ask the same questions to the landlord reference. Do the facts match up, such as how many bedrooms the apartment has or how much the tenant is paying per month? If you run into major inconsistencies between the landlord and applicant's stories, it's likely the applicant has something to hide.

There's a lot of trial and error that goes into checking a tenant's references, which is why you want as many sources of information as possible. The more due diligence you perform throughout the application process, the more likely it is you can determine whether the applicant is being honest with you.

POSTED January 27 2015 1:46 PM
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