What should I ask when checking references?

You’ve sorted through the pre-tenancy applications and you’ve chosen your preferred tenant; now is the time to do a reference check.

Once you’ve been given contact details for a reference check, it might be worth flicking them an email or a text message explaining who you are and if they’d be happy to speak to you about your prospective tenant.

Many people do not answer phone calls if they see a random or unknown number, so sending them a message about your intentions beforehand will ensure you are successful in reaching them.
Once you get in contact with them, arrange a time that suits you both to discuss the reference check.

The questions that you’ll want to ask your prospective tenant’s referee will probably change slightly depending on the relationship that they have. A friend is going to be unlikely to comment on their general attitude at work, and an employer probably won’t know much about what this person is like as a tenant. So try asking each of them these questions:

What to ask in a reference check with a tenants friend

  • How do you know [potential tenant]?
  • How long have you known them?
  • What do they do in their spare time?
  • Have you been to their home before? What was it like?
  • Do they smoke? (If this is a term of your lease)

What to ask a referee that is a tenants employer or workmate

  • Are you able to confirm that this person is/was employed with you?
  • What were/are some of their responsibilities in this role?
  • How do you enjoy working with [potential tenant]?
  • Have you ever needed to reprimand them at work?
  • Would you employ them again? Why or why not?

What to ask in a reference check with a tenants previous landlord

Contacting a reference that is a previous landlord of your prospective tenant is important. This means you can find out about them in a tenancy situation and you’ll get to ask questions about how they treated the property, and if rent was paid on time. As this reference will give you the most insight into the person as a tenant, you need to ensure you ask all the right questions. Here are some you shouldn’t leave out:

  • What was the duration of the tenancy?
  • Did the tenant consistently pay rent on time?
  • Did the tenant maintain the property well?
  • Were there any major damages or maintenance issues during their lease?
  • Did the tenant have any pets?
  • Did you receive any complaints from other tenants or neighbours?
  • Why did the tenant leave?
  • Would you rent to [potential tenant] again? Why or why not?

Keep in mind that people who are first time renters will not have a previous landlord to give as a referee. This is why it is important to know what questions to ask the tenants employer, colleagues and friends.

The process of scanning and evaluating prospective tenants isn’t easy. All too often, people that look good on paper end up causing issues down the line. Getting to speak to someone who already knows your prospective tenant well, and will be able to provide a good overall picture of them is vital. A reference check is a part of the letting process that you should never overlook.

Keep in mind that your tenant should have informed their referees that their prospective landlord will be contacting them. While it’s unlikely that they’re going to pass off a nightmare as a dream come true, they might not always be entirely honest either. Maintain a critical eye, but don’t be scared off by the small things.

For more information on why checking references is important, see:
Why should I check references?
Reference check discussion

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