Protect yourself by asking potential tenants for references. These references should include former landlords, past and present employers and even general references. Ask relevant questions about the would-be tenant, and learn to listen to the reference's comfort level and willingness to share information. This article will explain how to check tenant references.
Your tenant's application form should have space for three references. If they cannot provide three references, you may refuse to rent to them. A young person just out of college, for example, will most likely have teachers as references. An older adult, however, should give you at least one former landlord as a reference. Ideally, you want three landlord references, or two landlords and one employer as reference. The applicant must provide a current telephone number for each reference.
Call the landlord references. Ask how long the potential tenant lived there and compare that answer to the one given on the application. This will help verify what you have been told on the application. Ask if rent was paid on time. Ask if the person ever caused problems. The former landlord may not want to cause damage to the applicant's reputation, so beware of vague answers. If the other landlord has pleasant and reasonable remarks, then the applicant will likely be a good tenant.
Call former employers that your applicant offered as references. Ask open-ended questions: "How did you like working with him?" Ask if he was a reliable employee. Ask if the employer thinks he would make a good tenant. Again, beware vague answers or a strong desire to end the phone conversation. If the employer is relaxed and happy to talk to you, then he probably thinks highly of your applicant.
Call the general references. Say that the applicant included the reference on a tenant application, and ask if he would make a good tenant. Be quiet and let the other person talk. If they are cheerful and forthcoming with information, then the person may make a great tenant. If the reference seems uncomfortable talking to you, they may be holding back information.
Before you call former landlords and employers, do a little digging to make sure that the apartment complexes or businesses really do exist. For example, if your applicant claims to have worked at "x" restaurant, verify the existence of it. However, "x" restaurant may have gone out of business. When you call, ask about the business. The former employer will mention the truth, but someone masquerading as a former employer will not know that you know there is no "x" restaurant currently in operation.
When checking references, remember to listen to what the reference says. Pay attention to how comfortable he is talking with you.