What to Ask Prospective Tenant’s References

by Patrick Freeze  4/17/2023

As a landlord, finding high-quality tenants to occupy your rentals is crucial to your income and the growth of your business. Good tenants will pay their rent on time, notify you of any emergent issues, and keep your rentals in good shape. However, not every prospective applicant will meet your qualifications. As such, it’s crucial to have a good screening process where you check your prospective tenant’s references. So, read along as we discuss who to accept as references and what to ask them to find the best fit for your rental property. 


Contents of This Article: 

  • Importance of a Good Screening Process
  • Who Should You Accept as References?
  • What to Ask Prospective Tenant’s References
  • Tips for Checking Tenant’s References
  • Leave Tenant Screening to Your Property Managers

Importance of a Good Screening Process

An excellent tenant screening process is crucial for all landlords and property managers in Northern Virginia to find the best candidates for their rental properties. When you have several applicants interested in a rental property, you’ll want to ask questions to determine who the better candidate is. Tenant screenings generally reveal a renter’s history, financial status, and criminal history. 

Part of the tenant screening process includes asking your prospective tenant questions and asking them for references. A prospective tenant’s references may include their current landlord, employer, or a personal connection. Before we get into what questions to ask a tenant’s references, here are a few questions to ask a tenant before moving forward with the application process. 

Questions to Ask Potential Tenants


  • When do you plan on moving?
  • What made you decide to move?
  • How long have you been in your current home?
  • What are you looking for in a rental property?
  • How many occupants will be living in the rental?
  • Do you have pets or plan on getting any?
  • Do you meet our income qualification?
  • Have you ever been evicted from a rental?
  • Are you able to comply with a non-smoking rental property?
  • Under what circumstances have you broken a lease agreement?

Who Should You Accept as References?

Just because a tenant looks good on paper doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be a good choice for your rental property. Conducting thorough reference checks is crucial to learn more about them and ensure you find the best fit for your property. However, rushing this step can lead to mistakes and loss of income, so taking the necessary time is important. Let’s explore three categories of tenant references that can help find high-quality tenants. 

  • Previous Landlords
  • Employer References
  • Personal References

Previous Landlords

When considering a tenant for your rental property, it’s crucial to communicate with their former landlords. Current or previous landlords can provide valuable insights into the tenant’s behavior and reliability. However, relying solely on the current landlord’s feedback may not provide an accurate picture of the tenant. For instance, they may have their own reasons for wanting the tenant to leave. Therefore, it’s recommended to seek references from previous landlords who no longer have a financial relationship with the tenant.


Employer References

If you want to ensure that your prospective tenant will pay rent on time, another great reference to check is their current employer. Verifying information with their employer can give you more insight into their employment status and ability to pay rent. Additionally, questioning their employer can help determine personality traits that aid in communicating with your tenant. 

Personal References

Along with professional references and former landlords, talking with prospective tenants’ friends and family can give valuable insight into their character. Although there may be bias while talking to a tenant’s most personal connections, they can still offer some helpful information. Therefore, asking the right questions when using personal contact as part of your tenant reference checks is crucial. Next, we’ll review some of the most important questions to ask a prospective tenant’s previous landlords, employer references, and personal connections. 

What to Ask Prospective Tenant’s References

Asking the right questions to your prospective tenant’s references is crucial to the success of your rental property. Once you have a list of acceptable references, here are some crucial questions to ask them. 

What to Ask Current or Previous Landlords

  • Did the tenant make payments on time and in full?
  • How long was the tenancy?
  • What was the monthly rental rate for your property?
  • How did the tenant maintain the property?
  • Why did the tenant choose to leave your rental?
  • Did they communicate well with you or your property managers?
  • Would you rent to this tenant again?


Essential Questions for Employer References

  • When did you initially hire this tenant?
  • What is their current salary or hourly rate?
  • How many hours per week does the tenant work?
  • Will you continue to employ the tenant?
  • How well do they get along with coworkers?

Questions for a Tenant’s Personal References

  • How long have you known the tenant?
  • Would you rent to this individual if you were a landlord? 
  • Does the tenant travel often?
  • Has the tenant been in any disputes with neighbors?
  • Do they smoke or use illegal drugs? 

Tips for Checking Prospective Tenant’s References

Landlords must keep a few steps in mind while checking a prospective tenant’s references. By following these three guidelines, property owners can save time, money and prevent stress in the long run. Proper preparation is crucial for achieving success, so follow these three tips. 

  • Verify Their Information- Some tenants may provide fake or inaccurate information, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. For instance, a tenant may have friends or family answer a reference check call on their behalf. So, double-check names and verify the applicant’s information with a previous landlord or property management company. 
  • Call Instead of Email- It’s best to conduct reference checks over the phone instead of emailing. Phone calls allow you to hear a current or previous landlord’s tone to better understand your prospective tenant’s character. Additionally, it’s easier for a tenant to make a fake email account to give themselves a reference. 
  • Ask the Right Questions- Once you contact a reference over the phone, that’s the time to ask the right questions and get as much information as possible. Although it takes time, ensuring you choose the best fit for your rental property is worth the effort. 

Leave Tenant Screening to Your Property Managers

Checking your prospective tenant’s references is a crucial step in a thorough screening process. However, when you own several rental properties and have several applications coming in, it can be hard to dedicate the time necessary to screen each one. As such, many busy landlords hire comprehensive property management to help them balance the day-to-day tasks of owning rentals. 


If you’re looking for a top-notch property management team, look no further than Professional Property Management of Northern Virginia. Our team of dedicated property managers knows what it takes to place an excellent tenant in each rental property. Additionally, we can handle all tenant communication, maintenance issues, rent collection, and more. So, contact PPM today to learn more about our services and how we can help your business succeed. 

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