What is Rental History?
People tend to be creatures of habit. Unfortunately, sometimes those habits are bad ones.
A tenant’s rental history is a snapshot of how the tenant handled their responsibilities under previous lease agreements. It includes basic information like the tenant’s rent payment history, whether the tenant caused damage and lost their security deposit, and whether the tenant left early.
Discovering the tenant’s rental history assists landlords in avoiding common risks, like renting to a tenant with a violent criminal history or someone who already has been evicted multiple times for nonpayment of rent.
How to Check Rental History: 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Prequalify the rental applicant
The first communication with the rental applicant typically is a phone conversation with the landlord in response to an ad. New or inexperienced landlord sometimes make the mistake of rushing this call and immediately scheduling the applicant to see the property. But in that rush to fill a vacancy, those landlords miss a crucial opportunity to evaluate the tenant’s history.
In that initial communication, landlords need to establish if the applicant meets the qualifications for the property, like sufficient income. Also, the landlord needs to get basic information like current address, how long the tenant has lived in the current property, and when the tenant is planning to move. The answers to these questions can be compared to subsequent communications and the information provided in the rental application.
Any inconsistencies between what the applicant says in the initial phone call and in later communications or the rental application are a sign that the tenant is hiding something — most likely a bad rental history.
Step 2: A completed rental application
A rental application provides pertinent information like previous addresses and previous landlord references. The application also includes a declaration that the information is accurate and complete, and provides consent to investigate the tenant, including speaking to references. Without that consent, the landlord cannot effectively screen the tenant.
A rental applicant with a bad history is likely to avoid answering questions that might lead to being rejected, so an incomplete application is a red flag.
Step 3: Verify the previous address history
Once a completed application has been received, pay careful attention to the applicant’s previous addresses. Are these legitimate locations? Also, check the dates for any unexplained gaps. These can be anything from memory errors to time spent in prison to a tenant who skipped out on rent. Also pay attention to leases that ended at a strange interval. Ask the applicant to explain any issues.
The typical rental application matches the previous addresses to the previous landlords. Check that these names track with the references provided. Also, verify that the contact information for those references is genuine.
Step 4: Contact the references
A conversation with the current and previous landlords will yield the most information about the tenant.
Prepare a list of questions in advance of the conversation. This not only saves time but ensures that key points are covered before the reference needs to end the call.
Savvy property managers know that problem tenants do not like them to speak to the current or previous landlords. Tenants may dodge this process by failing to provide contact information or offering fake references. Some unscrupulous business websites offer to pose as a landlord or employer reference for a fee.
To avoid that trap, independently verify the phone number, meet the landlord at the property, or do a bit of research and come up with a question that a poser is not likely to know, like “When did you buy the property.”
Step 5: Run tenant screening reports and check the Landlord Credit Bureau Database
If the applicant is otherwise qualified and the references confirm a good rental history, the final step is to run tenant screening reports. This includes checking the tenant’s credit, eviction and criminal background histories, and the Landlord Credit Bureau Database.
This database, which includes rent payment history as well as delinquencies and property damage reported by previous landlords, flags high-risk applicants while confirming applicants who are a low risk for paying late or defaulting on rent.