The Landlord’s Guide to Stress-Free Rental History Checks

landlord places keys on paperwork that represents a tenant’s application and rental history check

Every tenant application you consider as a landlord is a high-stakes business decision. One of your main ongoing tasks, after all, is to consistently place reliable tenants in every rental until your rental properties pay off.

A rental history report is one of the best tools in your landlord toolbox for collecting valuable background information about prospective tenants so you can make the right choices. It looks beneath the surface of a potential tenant’s behavior at other properties, sort of like a rental X-ray. This screening tool shows portions of a potential tenant’s rental history that will inform their decision to offer a lease, for example. The information it reveals comes from the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and it gives a general impression of how responsible a tenant has been in their rental life.

Running a background check is an important step in the application process that every landlord should consider doing routinely. This guide will walk you through what a rental history check is, why it’s necessary, and how to use it to find out what you need to know..

6 Pieces of Information Found in a Rental History Check

A history report gives a detailed picture of a potential tenant’s time as a renter and includes outstanding rent, evictions, and any court appearances. Renters are usually aware of what’s on their report and may have ongoing disputes if they’ve found incorrect information.

A rental history report can contain myriad information about previous rental agreements. Some basic information found in them includes:

Prior Rental Addresses

All rental history checks will contain a comprehensive list of every place the applicant has ever rented in their name or with another person.

Contact Information

The check usually includes contact information for all landlords, apartment managers, rental agencies, and property managers in charge of the places where the applicant lived.

Dates and Amounts of Rentals

The dates and time span that the applicant lived in each rental property and the amount of rent paid during that time are available in standard reports.

Major Rental Issues

Any significant issues such as late rent payments, eviction, property damage, police interaction, and broken leases will show up.

Employment History

This is included because having a reliable income is a clear prerequisite to leasing a home. Steady employment is more important than being at the same home for an extended period.

Recommendations From Previous Landlords

Some previous landlords may leave glowing recommendations for the applicant, while others might have the opposite. The report will include whatever they have to say.

Most landlords have two major concerns when considering new tenants, evictions, and payment issues. A rental history check is more valuable than a credit check in this respect, because it focuses on payments and legal processes such as eviction, above all.

Receiving a rental history report is only the first step. Diligent landlords should also verify the information given in the report.

Verifying Rental History Checks

The best decision you can make usually comes from the most accurate information you can find. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Details in a rental history report can be outdated or false, so it’s important to verify the reporting you receive before making any decisions. 
  • Contacting the current landlord is essential but may not be enough. A current landlord might fudge the truth if it means getting a problematic tenant off their property. It’s even more important to contact past landlords because they have nothing to lose and are more apt to tell the whole truth. . 
  • Contacting previous landlords is usually seen as an arduous chore that is tempting to skip. Many property managers opt instead to use a service to screen tenants, which includes emails sent to previous landlords.

Landlords sometimes prefer to do their own legwork, however, to get a firsthand idea of the situation. You may have to call several times over a few days to gather all the information you need. Here are some questions you should ask former landlords:

Can You Confirm That This Applicant Rented From You?

Verify the name that the applicant used to rent and the dates provided on the rental history report. Make sure there are no gaps in dates or information. Ask for clarification if anything seems off-kilter. 

Did the Applicant Always Pay Rent On Time?

Many people can pay their rent on time every month without issue. Many others, though, will go through periods when they struggle to keep up. Landlords have to decide their tolerance level for an applicant who has one or two late rent payments. A pattern of consistent lateness can turn into missed payments, and that should ring alarm bells.

Did This Applicant Take Good Care of the Property?

The value of your rental properties depends heavily on how well tenants take care of them. Asking previous landlords about how the applicant treated their property is a good indicator of how they will treat yours.

How Did the Neighbors Feel About This Applicant?

Getting an idea about the relationship that neighbors and other tenants had with the applicant can be revealing. A tenant who was disruptive and caused others to move or complain will more than likely continue to do so on your property, possibly resulting in damage and resident turnover.

Would You Rent to This Applicant Again?

Asking this leads to questions about why they would or wouldn’t, and that’s where you’ll get the meat of your answer. Find out what made this applicant a good or bad candidate for this particular landlord.

Obtaining and verifying the information in a rental history check is vital. Some landlords will give false information, and some tenants will give out the contact info of a family member or friend and represent it as that of a previous landlord. If you are thorough, though, you’ll get the information you need to keep your rental property making money. 

Common Mistakes in Tenant Rental History Checks

a checklist being checked of with a red marker

Finding suitable tenants is one of the main challenges every landlord faces. Rental history checks are an essential part of that process, but only if they’re done correctly with minimal mistakes. Consider these common errors many landlords make in the screening process:

Don’t Always Trust Your Gut

It’s not uncommon to meet a potential tenant and immediately make a connection: They seem like nice people, and you want to trust them right away. A feeling like this can turn out to be accurate, but it can also be a grave error. Get a full background check for every applicant you interview, without exception. Consider this a best practice that you can’t do without.

Call the Most Recent Landlord

The most recent landlord could indeed be the least truthful, but there is still a lot of valuable information to be gleaned there. There could be a nonpayment issue that didn’t show up on a credit check yet, for instance. Just because a landlord wants a tenant out doesn’t necessarily mean they will lie to do so. It’s another data point you should not pass up.

Go for the Full Report

Many landlords will skip a rental history report and just get a credit report. They seem like the same information, but they aren’t. A credit report alone is not enough information to base a rental decision on. 

Be Transparent

Never hide the fact that you’re getting a rental history report on any applicant. Make it clear from the start that a background screening is part of the process. Doing so often helps weed out ill-fitting prospects before they become a waste of time and money. 

Don’t Take Everything at Face Value

Background checks aren’t accurate up to the day, and a lot can change in a few months. Documents can only tell so much of a person’s story, so give the applicant a chance to explain anything that seems troublesome. You don’t want to miss out on a great tenant just because you didn’t ask enough questions.

Rental history checks are a vital part of the leasing process. They contain valuable information that landlords need to make the best decisions possible for their properties. Learning to use them successfully can increase profits for your rental properties and bring you happier, long-term tenants.

Professional Screening Services Streamline the Process

The leasing process can be incredibly stressful. Using a digital online screening platform like Rent Safe makes the process simple and safe for both applicant and landlord.

Our innovative approach allows landlords to create custom applications and do screenings quickly and easily, and it gives applicants full transparency into their status.  Contact the Rent Safe team to see how our platform can help simplify your rental applicant screening processes.

Devin Henry
Devin Henry
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