How useful are tenant references & which ones should you request from prospective renters?
Whether you are managing properties in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, or anywhere else in Maryland, screening potential tenants can be a time-intensive process. Nonetheless, it is absolutely necessary.
Requiring references on rental applications allows you to verify information and better determine the quality of the potential tenant.
Checking references, however, is not as simple as it sounds.
To ensure that you obtain the most helpful and accurate information, you must know how to prioritize the different types of references, and what questions are suitable for each.
When screening for qualified tenants, it is illegal to discriminate against certain classes. Be sure that you are knowledgeable of and adhere to your local and federal fair housing laws. If you have questions about your screening process, consider working with a property management company that is familiar with Maryland laws.
For example, if you own rental properties in Annapolis, work with an Anne Arundel County property management company that provides a full line of services, including thorough tenant screening.
General Tips for Interviewing Tenant References in Maryland
- For legal purposes, make sure your rental application conveys to the potential tenant how he or she will be screened. If conducting background and/or credit checks, you must include an authorization for release of information on the rental application.
- Always verify the identity of the person whom you are interviewing. This can be done by a simple Internet search in most cases.
- Never “lead the witness.” Do not ask questions like, “The tenant took care of the property, right?”
- Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask open ended queries that require more than one word to answer.
- Be consistent and keep records of your interviews. Write a script or series of questions that you will ask each reference for all potential tenants. This strategy will ensure that you avoid asking anything that could be construed as discriminating towards protected classes, and that you are being fair when approving qualified tenants.
- Keep the tenant’s application on hand during the interview in order to fact-check the information provided. Cross-check references by the answers of each.
Verifying Personal References
Personal references are not the best means of deciding if a tenant is qualified. A smart applicant will only provide contact information for people they know will give her a great reference. A smarter tenant preps personal references before filling out a rental application.
Yet, if the right questions are asked, a personal reference can give you some insight into whether the potential tenant might be disruptive and disturb your other renters.
If you do decide to check personal references, use the following questions:
- What is your relationship to the tenant?
- How long have you known the tenant?
- How well do you know the other tenants on the lease?
- How often does the tenant host events at their home?
- What would you say are the tenant’s best qualities?
What would you say are the tenant’s worst qualities?
When verifying a potential tenant’s income, it is helpful to interview professional references. These references tend to be more objective than the personal ones, but they can still be biased.
It is recommended that in addition to interviewing the person the candidate lists on the application, to also interview the general manager of the business where he or she works. Interviewing both allows you to have a clearer picture of the tenant’s work ethic and history.
Helpful questions to ask:
- When was the tenant’s date of hire?
- What is the tenant’s current job title?
- What is the tenant’s current salary?
- On average, how many hours does the tenant work?
- Is the tenant’s employment under contract or at will?
- How often does the tenant travel for work?
Interviewing a potential tenant’s previous landlords can be the most worthwhile avenue to pursue. If the tenant provides more than one previous landlord’s contact information, call as many as are listed.
Interviewing only the most recent or current landlord may result in inaccurate information. A current landlord has more motivation to give dishonest answers if he is trying to get rid of an unreliable tenant.
If the potential renter has only provided one previous address, or does not complete the contact information completely for former landlords, conduct an Internet search to see previous addresses or to find telephone numbers for landlords.
Also, it is important to note that if an applicant has listed a series of previous landlords during a relatively short period of time, it may not be an indication of low-value tenant. Rather, she may be a military spouse. Keep this in mind when interviewing previous landlords.
Ask these questions:
- When did the tenant’s lease begin and end?
- What were the names of the people listed on the lease?
- What was the tenant’s monthly rent?
- How often did the tenant pay on time?
- How much of the security deposit did you return to the tenant?
- How well did the tenant take care of the unit?
- How often did the tenant’s lease renew (yearly or monthly)?
- Can you tell me about the tenant’s employment history?
- How well did the tenant interact with her neighbors?
- How well/often does the tenant communicate maintenance issues?
- Why did the tenant move out of the unit?
- Would you rent to this tenant again?
Checking references should be one step of many when approving a tenant. Your screening process should also include background checks, income verification and a credit report.
Remember, it is better to take the time to find a high quality tenant than to go through the costly process of eviction.
If you feel uncomfortable screening tenants yourself, consider working with a property management company in your area.
At Bay Property Management Group, we perform background checks, including criminal history and public records, as well as run credit reports on all prospective tenants as part of our property management services in Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and throughout Maryland.