As a landlord in Washington, DC, it’s easy to get excited about a new tenant that seems great on paper and even better in person. After you’ve shown the property and had the chance to talk with your new potential renter, you may decide to skip calling the renter’s references and have them sign a lease immediately.
But that would be a big mistake. Those references, usually past landlords and current employers, can provide valuable insight into your prospective renter and help you judge whether he or she is the right fit for your property.
When you’re making those calls to your renter’s references, the questions you ask will be vital. Here are the four questions to ask references of your prospective tenant that you cannot forget.
Prospective tenant questions for previous landlords
Previous landlords can provide a wealth of information about your prospective tenant. While you should remember to ask the housekeeping questions — what was the address, how long did the tenant rent the property — don’t forget to ask these key questions to learn more about how your prospective tenant might handle your property.
Did the tenant pay his or her rent on time every month? If not, what happened?
The one assurance that every landlord needs is that the tenant will pay the rent on time. It’s vital for any rental property owner who has to pay the mortgage, and it ensures that all the other utility and upkeep bills are paid on time.
Ask the tenant’s previous landlord whether rent payments were made on time — and then ask the landlord to specify what “on time” means to them. In Washington, DC, rental laws allow renters a five-day grace period to make their rent payments after the 1st. Did their tenant always pay on the fifth? Did he or she set up automatic payments?
It’s also worth asking what happened when a renter missed a payment. Did the renter catch the error, or did the landlord need to send several reminders? Was it a one-time lapse or one that happened every few months? A one-time error may not be a concern, but multiple missed payments should be cause for concern.
Did the tenant maintain the property while living there?
How the tenant treated his or her previous property may give you some idea of how your property may be treated. Every landlord has different expectations for tenants, so make sure the previous landlord clarifies what the tenant was responsible for on the property (i.e. mowing the lawn, replacing light bulbs, keeping the property clean).
Ask the previous landlord how the property looked after the tenant moved out and whether there were any major repairs caused by the tenant. It’s also important to understand how often the landlord visited or passed by the property while the tenant was there. A landlord that passed through occasionally might not give an accurate picture of the tenant’s habits.
Prospective tenant questions for employers
Employers can be great references for prospective tenants, and they can help reassure you that your tenant will have a monthly income. You will need to ask the obvious questions, such as how long the tenant has been an employee and how much the employee earns monthly (some employers might give a ballpark figure here), but here are a few questions you should also ask to get a better understanding of your potential renter.
What are the terms of the employee’s contract? Full time? Part-time? As needed?
Your prospective tenant may be technically employed, but that doesn’t mean that he or she has a full-time position. The Washington, DC area has plenty of contract employees who may only be needed for a short time before they move on to a different position.
Though the salary listed by your renter may be high, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the employee works full time for a single company. Ask the employer for clarification, just to be on the safe side.
Some employees start with a new company on a trial contract period. If all goes well, then the employee will likely be hired full-time. If that’s the case for your renter, ask the employer how likely it is that the employee will be hired full-time and when that might happen. This will give you a clearer picture of your renter’s financial future.
Don’t assume that part-time work means the tenant will not be able to pay the rent. Some part-time jobs become full-time jobs, much like contract work, and some part-time jobs pay very well, depending on the industry and demand. If your prospective renter works part-time, ask lots of questions to better understand the nature of the work and how volatile it is.
Will the employee be working for home frequently even after the pandemic has subsided?
There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic has changed how people work. Many officer workers might have the option to work from home indefinitely or at least limit the number of times they come into the office each week.
From a landlord's perspective, a tenant working from home more often can have some pros and cons. Having someone home consistently means there’s less of a chance of a break-in during the day when the tenant would usually be at work. It also means that the tenant can catch problems, such as a leaky pipe, more quickly.
In some cases, tenants working from home can mean high utilities since they’re no longer leaving for eight hours each day. If your tenant pays a flat fee for utilities or if you pay them, then you might want to consider adjusting your utility fee structure.
Screening references for potential renters can be a tricky task, even for more experienced landlords. That’s why the experts at Atlas Lane are here to help. Our professionals have screened hundreds of tenant references, and we know the right questions to ask and the follow-ups in between. We’ll make sure that your new tenant is thoroughly vetted to ensure that rent will be paid on time and your property will be well kept.
Ready to learn more? Get started with our property management company in Washington, DC here.