Finding a good tenant sometimes feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. You run into all sorts of situations, such as the person who can only pay in cash, the prospective tenant on their third eviction in as many years, or the family who wants to move their entire extended family into a two bedroom apartment. You finally find someone who looks great on paper, but there's only one issue: they don’t have any landlord references. A prospective tenant may have several reasons why they would not have existing landlord references, and it's up to you to determine whether they are acceptable or not.
A fresh graduate from high school or college often won’t any landlord references beyond their parents or the dorm rooms. You need to rely more on your gut feeling with a graduate who doesn't have landlord references, especially if they've never been away from home before. Their first rental is going to be a learning experience, and sometimes those experiences end up costing you money in property damage or lost rent. If you want to rent to the student segment, but you're worried about the life experience of the tenant, consider renting to graduates coming from dorms since they have had some experience with independent living.
Explore references from their employers and professors to start with. Ask questions about whether the graduate showed up on top for class and work, performed their duties properly, worked hard, and made a good impression. If the graduate is associated with any school clubs, fraternities, or volunteer groups, talk to individuals in leadership positions for additional character references.
Recently Released from Prison
Someone recently released from prison may not have landlord references if they have served a significant amount of time in jail. Whether you want to rent to someone in this situation depends on how you feel about renting to someone with a criminal background, and whether you can get character references to determine the trustworthiness of the tenant. The former prisoner often has a caseworker or probation officer they work with as they get re-introduced to society. Find out about the dependability of the applicant, the nature of the crime, and the positive steps they are taking to rejoin society.
Many families find themselves in the difficult situation of caring for aging parents who choose not to go into assisted living or a senior housing community. If the applicant has been living in their relative's or parent's home for a significant amount of time due to providing care, they won't have recent landlord references. Ask for employer references and a character reference to get a sense of the applicant. If they have stayed at the same company or in the same career for a significant amount of time while caregiving, they present less risk than an applicant who jumped from job to job and doesn't present an impression of stability.
Recent Divorcee or Former Homeowner
Some people have lived in their own home for decades, only to search for a rental due to a home sale, divorce, or foreclosure. Look at the mortgage and utility payment records for this type of applicant. If they paid their mortgage on time while owning a home, it's likely they can transition to rental payments without a hitch. If the applicant is going through a foreclosure, discuss what caused the foreclosure and look at the payment history up until that point. Some mitigating factors, such as substantial medical bills or spousal death, indicate the foreclosure is not due to financial irresponsibility.
If you check landlord references and the property owner information doesn't match the landlord reference, it's possible that your applicant has been living in a roommate situation. This is a common situation for graduate students and young professionals. Find out who handles the rental management and rent payment. Some landlords allow their longest term tenants to handle the day-to-day aspects of property management. Talk to the roommates and the landlord to get a clear picture of whether the applicant is a responsible and financially stable person.
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