Rental History Reports

A rental history report is a comprehensive timeline of a renter’s past rental housing. This information is used in the tenant screening process to allow the landlord to make a more informed decision in the selection of a new tenant.

There are several ways to obtain a rental history report. A rental history report can be compiled by the landlord using applicant supplied information requested on the rental application. Most standardized rental applications request the applicant to provide a 3 to 5 year rental history with previous and past landlord /property manager names, contact information for each landlord/property, rental address, and dates of tenancy.

A rental history report may be provided by some tenant screening companies as a specialized report for landlords. Information for a rental housing history report is generally gathered from multiple information sources including credit reports, background checks, eviction records, and previous addresses used by the renter.

Some specialty consumer reporting agencies provide consumer rental history reports for a landlord to use in applicant decision making. Consumer data for rental history may include information on rents, deposits, past due amounts, property damages, evictions, lease defaults, noise and nuisance complaints, unauthorized occupants, pet issues, or other reportable events.

A rental history report as provided by a contracted agency may provide the landlord with renter information such as:

  • A chronological listing of all rental housing addresses reported for the renter,
  • Full contact information for the landlord/property management company for each rental property address listed,
  • Dates of tenancy at each rental address,
  • Monthly rent and rent payment history,
  • Rental issues such as late or missed rents, lease default, property damage, legal action such as eviction, or other reported rental problems,
  • Any recommendations regarding tenancy as reported by a past landlord.

A rental history report provides an orderly means to analyze and evaluate an applicant’s past rental behaviors for potential financial risk to the landlord’s business. The rental history report is a capsulized document of what the applicant was like as a tenant over a certain rental period. By using a rental history report the landlord can easily determine a pattern of how often a renter has moved, the length of tenancy at each rental address, confirmation of timely rent payments, and whether there is history of negative events involving the renter. Analysis of the report could identify red flag issues such as frequent or sudden moves, lease defaults of unpaid rent, damages, or skips, and eviction. Perhaps the greatest concern for landlords is the potential threat of late and missed rents. Data on rent payment history is not always available to landlords using customary tenant screenings such as credit reports. While an applicant’s credit report provides information on general credit usage and payment history of debt obligations, many credit reports do not contain history specific to rent obligations and rent payment history unless a landlord has reported debt to a credit reporting agency or has sent the debt to a collections agency.

The use of the rental history report provides an overview of rental behaviors for a period of time, usually over several years that can be indicative of future renter behavior. This snapshot of rental history can be of significance in tenant decisioning regarding probable length and quality of tenancy and the potential impact on landlord cash flow as a result. If a landlord depends upon stable and consistent cash flow from long term tenants, a renter that historically fulfills a one year lease agreement and moves on or a tenant that has a history of late payments can have a significant impact on cash flow.

A rental history report can reveal the absence of rental history or limited rental references. For example, applicants who are first time renters, have previously rented from family members, lived in student housing, or are homeowners returning to rental markets may have limited rental history or none at all. The landlord should follow his stated rental policy and practices for rental qualification. If the applicant is otherwise qualified, the landlord’s options could include requiring additional security as permitted by state statute.

There can be a request by an applicant that the landlord not contact the applicant’s current landlord. The applicant may not have given notice, may not want the current landlord to know he is looking for a new rental, or thinks the current landlord will give unfavorable information, which may or may not be justified. While the request is understandable, the landlord should adhere to his stated tenant screening policies. If one exception is made, other exceptions might follow. However, the timing of the decision to contact the current landlord could depend upon whether the applicant is otherwise qualified to rental criteria. If the applicant meets other criteria, the current landlord should be contacted for a reference check.

If a thorough review of the rental history report does not discover red flag issues, the landlord can proceed with the applicant interview followed by reference checks of previous and past landlords.

It should be standard business practice for fair housing compliances to ensure that interview questions are non-discriminatory in nature and asked in a non-discriminatory manner. The same questions for applicant interviews must be asked of all applicants and the same questions for landlord reference checks must be asked of all previous landlords. Interview questions for an applicant could include relevant questions regarding rental history such as rent details (due date, late payment assessments), property conditions (move-in/move-out, damages), or whether the applicant would rent from that landlord again.

Research and verification of rental history information is a required risk management measure to safeguard the landlord’s business. Failing to conduct all due diligence on applicants has the potential for claims of liability and negligence. Applicants wanting to withhold rental history may try to use friends or family members as landlord references, provide false or misleading rental addresses, aliases, or other fraudulent information. A landlord calling to check rental references must verify the identity of the reference, the rental address, and confirm that the applicant was a tenant with that landlord at that address.

If the applicant has been a renter for several years, calling former landlords may provide more honest answers to questions about rental behaviors than calling only the previous landlord who may have motivation for giving either a good or bad reference.

A past landlord has moved on and has nothing to gain or lose in providing relevant rental information. While some former landlords may be hesitant to provide detailed tenant information due to privacy concerns, a landlord should be able to at least confirm dates of tenancy, rental amount, and the security deposit amount.

Most commonly during a landlord reference check, the inquiring landlord has questions such as:

  • What were the dates of the tenancy?
  • What was the amount of monthly rent? What was the security deposit?
  • Did the tenant consistently pay the rent on time?
  • Did the tenant have roommates that contributed to the monthly rent?
  • Did the tenant take reasonable care of the property? Was the unit clean at move-out?
  • Was the tenant disruptive to others?
  • Were any legal notices for evictions served?
  • Was notice given per the lease agreement?
  • Was the full security deposit returned?
  • Would the landlord rent to this tenant again?

The above questions are representative of a number of questions that could be asked of landlord references. The inquiring landlord would probably like to know as much as possible about the former tenant’s rental behavior but should remain respectful of the reference landlord’s time and access to tenant records.

Information obtained through landlord references should be assessed against information obtained through other types of tenant screenings. A landlord must keep an open mind regarding any mention of personality conflicts, subjective feelings, or personal preferences as expressed by a former landlord. A positive reference by a former landlord does not necessarily mean a trouble-free tenancy. A decision to offer tenancy must be based on all objective data collected by the landlord’s tenant screening process.

Since landlord reference checks are only one of many tenant screenings conducted for tenant qualification, a landlord has multiple opportunities to obtain data to evaluate applicants. By using multiple types of screenings, if the tenant has been a problem tenant in the past there will likely be red flags that show up in other screenings

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