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How to Check Rental History on an Applicant

and Why It’s So Important

by Kevin
Rental History image of house and notes

Tenant screening is one of the most important things Landlords do to check rental history. It ensures that you only hand over possession of your rental property to qualified Applicants and substantially reduces the risk of a bad rental outcome. Effective Tenant Screeningincludes a Rental Application,credit report, and criminal background check

However, savvy Landlords know that in addition to these key forms and reports, good screening procedures also include checking rental history. After all, the goal of Tenant Screening is to predict the likelihood that an Applicant will be a good Tenant, keep the rental property in good condition, and consistently pay rent on time. Past behavior is one of the best things that you can look at to try to predict future behavior. 

Checking rental history involves both talking with past Landlords and getting an eviction report. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to do that and some tips to make the process as effective as possible. 

Step-by-Step Guide for Checking Rental History

Given the importance of checking rental history, it’s something that should be done every time you screen an Applicant. Here’s what this process looks like.

  1. Ask Applicants for the addresses of previous rentals. This information might appear in their credit report, but it’s still important to ask for it. Doing so will help confirm the information and make sure you have all recent addresses. The best way to get this information is in your Rental Application.
  2. Ask Applicants for the contact information for previous Landlords. Ideally, you’ll get contact information for three previous Landlords. Again, the EZiest way to get this information is by asking for it in the Rental Application.
  3. Have Applicants authorize you to contact prior Landlords and to check rental history. You can do this by having Tenants sign a Rental History Release Form or by including this waiver in the Rental App.
  4. Call prior Landlords, confirm the dates of each Applicant’s tenancy, and ask specific questions about the Applicant. You’ll likely adjust your questions based on how the Landlord responds, but here are a few questions to help guide this interview:
    1. Was the Applicant ever late with rent? If so, how many times?
    2. Did the Applicant damage the property beyond normal wear and tear?
    3. Was the Applicant the source of complaints from neighbors or others?
    4. What was the condition of the unit when the Applicant moved out?
    5. Would you rent to the Applicant again?
    6. Did you have any trouble communicating with the Applicant?
    7. Is there anything else you think a fellow Landlord should know about this Applicant?
  5. Verify the rental history by getting an Eviction Report. This report will provide you with nationwide records of unlawful detainers, writs and warrants of eviction, Tenant judgments for rent, and Tenant judgments for possession and money. If an Applicant has had a prior eviction, you want to know about it. Running this report helps to confirm that the information you have collected from the Applicant is accurate and that you haven’t missed any important information.

Tips for Effectively Using Rental History in Tenant Screening

Experience has shown that there are some common issues that arise if you checking rental history. Here are few that Landlords should be aware of and prepared to address: 

  • Look for gaps in rental history and ask about them. The gap could have a good explanation – for example, the Applicant moved home to save money – or it could indicate that there’s something the Applicant is trying to hide. Be aware of gaps in rental history and make sure that you address each one.
  • Contact at least two, and ideally three, prior Landlords. If the Applicant is a bad Tenant, the current Landlord might be anxious to have the Applicant move. If this is the case, the Landlord might not provide an accurate picture of what type of Tenant the Applicant is. You can avoid this issue by talking to prior Landlords in addition to the Applicant’s current Landlord.
  • Some Applicants, for example recent college graduates, don’t have a rental history. This doesn’t mean that they must be excluded from the screening process, but it is something you need to have a system for dealing with. If there is no rental history, ask for an explanation of why. If you’re comfortable with the explanation, you can then look to other factors – for example, proof of employment, pay stubs or tax returns, or employer references – to make a determination about whether or not the Applicant is qualified.
  • Pay attention to how long an Applicant lived at each prior address. This should give you a sense for how long the Tenant will be in your property. For example, look to see if a particular Applicant has moved every year or whether they’ve been longer-term Tenants. Experienced Landlords are always looking for good Tenants that will stay in the property, so this can be a factor that can help you pick the best Applicant.
  • In addition to calling prior Landlords, you can also ask them to fill out a Rental History Inquiry Form to gather information about an Applicant. The phone call is always a good idea because you can ask follow-up questions and get additional information, but this form is also a good way to provide documentation about why an Applicant was rejected or selected.

Always Thoroughly Screen Applicants

Renting a property without doing thorough screening is risky and can lead to bad outcomes. This is why you should always Screen Applicants prior to signing a Lease Agreement. Visit ezLandlordForms.com to get access to the best screening services including a free Rental Application that will allow you to check rental history, a Credit Report, Criminal History Report, and an Eviction Report.

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