12 Questions to Ask Tenant References (Must-Ask)


It’s not good enough to simply contact tenant references. You need to contact them and then ask all the right questions.

Importance of Tenant Reference Checks

Conducting tenant reference checks is crucial for ensuring you find high-quality tenants who respect your property and pay rent on time. 

A high-quality tenant typically has a stable income, good credit history, and positive references from previous landlords. They demonstrate reliability, responsibility, and a respectful attitude toward the property. 

Reference checks help you verify these attributes, thus reducing the risk of late payments, property damage, and eviction issues. 

Questions to Ask Tenant References

When calling tenant references, be courteous and respectful of the previous landlord’s time. 

First, explain who you are and that you are calling with reference check questions. Then ask if they have a moment to talk.

It’s important to ask a consistent set of questions during every reference call. Standard questions keep you on the right side of fair housing laws—discriminatory questions may come back to bite you.

Here are 12 of the best questions to ask.

1. Did the tenant stay for the stated period?

Confirming the tenant stayed for the stated period shows reliability and commitment. It also indicates they didn’t break their lease early, which could disrupt your rental schedule.

2. What was the monthly rent?  

Knowing the monthly rent helps you assess the tenant’s financial stability. It also provides context for comparing their previous rent to what you’re charging.

3. How much of the rent did the tenant normally pay?

This question ensures the tenant paid their full rent consistently. It reveals any potential issues with partial payments that could affect your cash flow.

4. Did the tenant always pay rent on time? 

Timely rent payments are crucial for your financial planning. A history of punctual payments suggests the tenant is financially responsible.

5. Were utilities on and paid in full at all times?

This question verifies the tenant’s responsibility in managing household expenses. It indicates their reliability in maintaining essential services.

6. Did anyone else live with the tenant(s)?

Understanding if others lived with the tenant helps you understand compliance (or noncompliance) with lease terms. Unauthorized occupants can lead to property damage and lease violations.

7. Did the tenant(s) ever receive any legal notices (late rent, noise, unauthorized occupants, notice to vacate, etc.)?

Legal notices indicate potential issues with the tenant’s behavior or payment history. They can signal red flags that might impact your property management.

8. Were there any pets?

Knowing if the tenant had pets helps you assess potential wear and tear on the property. 

9. Was the home maintained in good condition (housekeeping, lawn, etc.)?

A well-maintained home indicates the tenant’s respect for your property. It helps you anticipate how they might treat your rental unit.

10. Did the tenant give proper notice before vacating?

Proper notice ensures a smooth transition between tenants and helps you manage vacancies. It reflects the tenant’s adherence to lease agreements.

11. Did the tenant receive their entire deposit back after vacating?

Returning the full deposit suggests the tenant left the property in good condition. It indicates they met the terms of the lease and took care of your property.

12. Would you rent to the tenant again?

This question provides a direct assessment of the tenant’s overall behavior and reliability. A positive answer reinforces their suitability as a renter.

Tips for Conducting Effective Reference Checks 

Effective reference checks help you select reliable tenants who will respect your property and fulfill their financial obligations. 

Follow these tips to verify the authenticity of references and gather comprehensive insights into a tenant’s rental history.

Verify authenticity

Always confirm the contact information provided by the tenant. Call the previous landlord directly, and cross-check details like the property’s address and lease dates to ensure authenticity.

Ask open-ended questions

Encourage detailed responses by asking open-ended questions. This approach reveals more about the tenant’s behavior and reliability beyond simple yes or no answers.

Check multiple references

Contact at least two previous landlords for a comprehensive view of the tenant’s rental history. This helps identify consistent patterns in their behavior.

Document everything

Keep detailed notes of your conversations for future reference. This documentation can be invaluable if any issues arise later.

What to Do if Applicants Don’t Have References

Some applicants won’t have any—or limited—rental references, usually due to their age or being prior homeowners. Technically, this may not meet your qualification standards, because you can’t ask your standard reference check questions. 

Your options in this case are to:

  1. Decline their application.
  2. Accept them without references and take the risk, assuming everything else about them is stellar.
  3. Require a co-signer.
  4. Require an additional security deposit if that is allowed in your specific state.

The option many landlords choose is No. 2: Accept them without references, asking for an additional security deposit. 

Final Thoughts

There are many questions to ask tenant references, but these are among the most important. When you combine these questions with the other guidance above, you put yourself in a position to rent your property to a tenant you can trust.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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