Conducting a full background check on your potential tenants are more than checking out the paperwork, it’s also about gaining knowledge about your tenant from someone who knows, their previous landlords.  This may seem like such a nuisance, but it’s important as many tenants will not hesitate to twist the truth or omit vital information faced with desperation of finding a new place.

1. Was the rent paid on time?

Be sure not to start with a tenant that will pay for the first few months but slowly degenerate into excuses. On time payments every time is essential


2. How long was the tenancy?

This will give you a good idea after a few reference checks whether this can be a long or short term (1 year) tenant.  Some landlords are willing to wait for the potential of a super long term tenant.  

It will give you an understanding about the reliability of your prospective tenants.

3. Who ended the tenancy and why?

So many surprising answers can come from this question.  Simply ask and learn from the responses.  Remember to ask both parties, previous landlords and prospective tenants.

4. Did they have any pets, if yes, how did that go

I believe that more rental units need to be pet friendly or at least allow small pets as many pets are put down by the millions every year because of this pet friendly lack.  I would like to urge all landlords to take a look at their properties and decide what kind of pets could be easily and safely allowed.

There are many pet owners that will take excellent care of your property with no pet damages to speak of.  It is recommended that you speak to your prospective tenant and discuss matters like pet damages.  Asking for an additional pet deposit seem quite common in the US.  

  1. Examine your rental space
  2. Decide on the type and size of pets
  3. Decide on the amount of pets
  4. Stick to your guns

It is important to be strict when allowing pets, consider conducting more regular check ins. But please be reasonable as we are working with animals, adjustment periods, potting training…these are all part of being a pet owner.

5. Where there any complaints from the tenant

This will give you a good idea of what complaints to expect from the tenant.  Will the complaints be miniscule or valid, and how often they occur.  You don’t want to get yourself an old lady that will pay the rent, take excellent care of the space, but phone you about small, miniscule matters daily.  You want to make sure you find a tenant that works with your personality.  

Remember that there are always 3 sides to a story;

The Landlord + The Tenant = The actual truth

Keep this in mind when talking to both, the previous landlord and the prospective tenant. I would like to urge all landlords to try and remember the days when you, yourself were a tenant. Be reasonable, but make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into.

6. Was there any damages besides wear and tear?

It’s good to know if you should be expecting the occasional breakage so that you can avert it entirely. Nothing more than normal wear and tear should be the answer to this question.

If this is not the case you should inquire in full to the events, the actions and responses that were taken from both parties.

7. How well did your tenant communicate?

You and your tenant will have to be able to communicate from time to time, especially in those emergency situations.  It is for this reason extremely important to find a tenant that answers their phone or communicates via a written method such as sms, whatsapp, email, facebook, twitter….

Be the better person and communicate in the form that your tenant prefers.  

I prefer the sms and whatsapp communication route.  This way the conversations are also documented:)

8. Were there any complaints about your tenant?

Its essential that you know the person you are allowing into your space and your neighborhood.  Potential party animals are fine for a younger (more liberal) neighborhood, such as a student village, compared to an unhappy body corporate in a snazzy Sandton apartment.

9. Did you receive your full notice period to the end of the agreement?

How people handle the end of their lease agreement say a lot about the type of landlord – tenant relationship.  You should be wary  if your prospective tenant seem to have a questionable ending to their lease agreements on a regular basis.

10. Would you rent to this tenants again?

It would be nice to hear nothing but a ‘yes’ from all the previous landlords.  But honestly a comfortable few’ yes-es’ will do the trick.

By conducting several references checks you are ensuring that you get a full understanding of your prospective tenants.  How they tend to behave, how they tend to pay, and how they treat another’s property.

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Written by Lizl Brink, Lizl is copywriter and designer based in Johannesburg, she is also a frequent contributor to the Mafadi blog, and as an Urban investor and rejuvenation shares a passion for urban regeneration, go check out her personal portfolio here
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