6,000Units Under Management
Less Than 1% Eviction Rate
Avg. Time Rental Is on Market 23 Days

7 Ways to Ensure Your Potential Tenant’s References are Real

Any responsible rental property owner knows the importance of tenant screening when it comes to placing tenants in their property. You want to ensure the tenant you are considering has no criminal background, verifiable income that can cover the monthly rent expenses and a good credit score. One of the best ways to verify a tenant’s character or rental history is by requesting references and contacting them to learn more about the tenant. But how can you be sure you’re speaking to a real reference? Today, we’ll review how to verify your potential tenant’s references to ensure you get a fair assessment of your prospective tenant. 


Contents of This Article:

Why Is Tenant Screening Important?

Most rental applications require prospective tenants to list personal and professional references and contact information regarding their employers and past landlords. As such, it is equally important that you and your Northern Virginia property managers do not skip verifying these references during the screening process.

Though it shouldn’t come as any surprise, plenty of potential tenants fabricate their references in an attempt to secure a rental home. While this may seem somewhat harmless, the truth is that tenant references have the potential to reveal some very helpful information about your tenant that the paperwork may not.

But how do you know if the references listed on an application are, in fact, real?

To help answer this question, we will look at some of the best ways you can ensure that your potential tenant’s references are legitimate.

Verifying Your Potential Tenant’s References

Asking for references is common practice regarding rental applications and tenant screening processes. However, not all tenants will be truthful with whom they list as references. That’s why landlords and property managers must take the time to verify potential tenant’s references. Here are a few ways to accomplish that. 


  1. Interview the Tenant First
  2. Ask for Pay Stubs
  3. Always Call References
  4. Be Specific in Your Questioning
  5. Ask for More References
  6. Explain the Consequences
  7. Hire a Property Management Company

Interview the Tenant First

One thing you might not think about when verifying a potential tenant’s references is to talk with the tenant first. This initial conversation can be brief and should include questions such as:

  • Where are you currently employed?
  • What is your monthly gross income?
  • What might your boss or former employers say about you as an employee?
  • What are your monthly debt obligations?
  • What do you think your previous landlords would have to say about you?

Interviewing a tenant before calling their references will give you a heads-up on anything that may seem amiss about the tenant. Additionally, it lays a good foundation for comparing what the tenant says and the references say.

You never know what a tenant’s reference is going to say. Knowing what may be said beforehand will alert you to any discrepancies immediately.

Ask for Pay Stubs

Sometimes, tenants do not have a good relationship with their employers and have someone else, such as a friend, act as their boss on the other end of the phone when a property owner calls in to verify an employer reference.

One great way to get around this, and better verify the tenant’s income in the process, is to ask for a few pay stubs. You may even request employment verification documents. That way, you can conduct your own research to see if the reference listed is, in fact, a real person.

In addition, you can contact the employer’s HR department and ask to be in direct contact with the tenant’s employer rather than call the number listed on the reference sheet. This will help diffuse any “fake boss” calls.

Always Call References

It is very easy to forge a written reference, either on paper or via email. Additionally, when reading a prepared statement, you may not get a real feel for how a reference feels about a tenant. That’s why it’s best to call all of your prospective tenant’s references and talk with them one-on-one.

This question-and-answer type of conversation may yield some red flags, or further confirm a potential tenant as a good fit for you. Additionally, speaking in person with someone will help solidify that your potential tenant’s references are real. 

Be Specific in Your Questioning

Be warned that just because you call a tenant’s references and speak to someone directly does not mean they are real references.


Thus, when it comes to interviewing a tenant’s previous landlords, there are specific things you can start with during the conversation to help verify you are speaking to a landlord instead of a buddy pretending to be one.

RentSpree recommends prefacing the conversation with a statement that you will simply ask some generic questions first to verify that they are an actual landlord. RentSpree also suggests that you ask what type of license is needed to become a landlord in that particular region, and what type of inspections are required to lease property. After all, a real landlord can answer these questions easily.

Ask for More References

Nothing stops you from asking a potential tenant’s reference for a secondary reference. In fact, this tactic is very useful when verifying employer references. The more people you talk to about the potential tenant, the better insight you will gain into what type of person and tenant they are likely to be.

Start by thanking the reference for their time, and then kindly ask for the contact information of another person who works closely with the tenant. You can almost guarantee that your tenant’s employer references are real if you are immediately given that information.

Explain the Consequences of Falsifying a Reference

Some prospective tenants will lie about their references, no matter what. Unfortunately, that’s just part of being in the rental property business. However, explain that any falsifications discovered on a tenant application, references included, will lead to an automatic rejection of the application. This may cause some tenants to think twice before lying.

Being clear and upfront about the consequences of a dishonest tenant application may help to discourage tenants from putting any fake information on the application. It also shows the tenant how serious you are about leasing your property. It gives the impression that you stand firm, act as a professional, and will not tolerate problems of any kind.

Hire a Property Management Company

An experienced property manager will have had run-ins with tenant references of all kinds. As such, they’re best suited to tell when someone is being dishonest and when the true character of a potential tenant is being revealed.


Undoubtedly, a skilled Baltimore property management company will be able to handle tenant screening better than anyone else, yourself included. Their job is to place high-quality tenants in your rental property so that you continue to employ them for their services.

Not taking tenant screening, specifically reference checks, seriously would do their business more harm than good. That’s why relying on a quality property management team to screen your tenants for you is often your best bet for ensuring a tenant has given you real references.

How Can Property Management Help?

Verifying that your potential tenant’s references are real on their rental application can be tough. It will often take some extra research on your end and a little bit of gut instinct to decide whether a reference is telling the truth. Luckily, however, there are good ways of getting around some issues that tend to pop up with fake tenant references.

Need More Advice? contact us today!

If you’re near Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, or Washington, DC, and own properties that need tenants, contact Bay Management Group today. See how we can help you with your tenant screening and placement needs with our comprehensive property management services.