6 Simple Steps to Check a Tenant's Rental Verification History

6 Simple Steps to Check a Tenant's Rental Verification History

Last Updated: October 19, 2023 by Cameron Smith

Tenants with good rental history have a track record of paying on time, communicating well, and keeping the lease rules. Rental history can be provided by applicants, previous landlords, tenant screening companies, or the screening landlord.

What is Rental History?

Rental history refers to a tenant’s record of living in rental properties.

Data such as evictions, missed payments, and property damages that cause a criminal charge can be found in public records. Most landlords pay a tenant screening service to compile a report from that data.

Landlords should also collect contact information of former landlords, dates lived in previous rentals, and past rental addresses. Information such as late payments (less than 30 days late), minor property damage, and breaking lease rules can only be found through contacting previous landlords.

Gathering rental history is a key piece in choosing between applicants for landlords. The average eviction costs between $3,500 – $10,000, so it’s important to pull complete rental history to find the best applicants.

Why is Rental Verification Important?

Rental verification offers landlords a picture of what a renter is really like. Unfortunately, people are not always honest about their past. A rental verification can help you to determine which applications are accurate.

Check out this list of benefits of rental verification and the risks associated should a landlord choose not to complete this step.

Benefits  Risks
Avoid renters with a history of eviction Frequent late or unpaid rent
Avoid renters with a criminal background Property damage
Helps to protect your property Criminal acts on the property
Verify income to avoid payment issues Higher liability for bad tenant behavior
Select highly qualified renters in hopes of maintaining long-term tenants Eviction

How to Verify a Tenant’s Rental History

Here are the 6 steps to verify rental history:

  1. Ask About Rental History on the Application
  2. Have Applicant Sign a Release
  3. Review Application
  4. Talk to Previous (or Current) Landlords
  5. Avoid Discrimination When Establishing Rental History
  6. Check for Prior Evictions

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1. Ask About Rental History on the Application

While landlords would be naïve to trust everything applicants tell them, it’s still a pretty good starting point to ask them questions about their rental history.

Also, in-depth questions will serve as a filter to keep out some of the less-qualified applicants. This saves landlords time and money when it comes to actively screening. Plus, the fewer applicants that a landlord has to send rejection letters to, the less likely the landlord will become the subject of a discrimination lawsuit.

Here are some good questions to ask on a rental application:

  • Have you ever been evicted?
  • Do you have a track record of missing payments or being late on rent?
  • Have you ever broken a lease?
  • Have you damaged a rental property before?
  • Do you believe your previous landlords would rent to you again?

Also ask for previous landlords’ contact information. Make it clear that you are going to verify their answers on this application, and that applicants with information that doesn’t line up will be removed from consideration for the rental.

2. Have Applicant Sign a Release

Having a release allows you to go and collect information about the tenant. Landlords need permission to gather financial data under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Furthermore, most states have privacy laws requiring permission before a landlord may talk to a previous landlord.

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3. Review Application

At this point, before doing any in-depth screening, landlords should review the applications to determine if there are any that can be immediately disqualified.

When reviewing the application, make sure that you have set firm standards for disqualifying an applicant. This helps you make quick decisions about filtering out more candidates.

Furthermore, documented standards help protect you from discrimination lawsuits. For example, if an applicant with poor credit tries to sue you, but you can prove that you reject all applicants with under a 500 credit score, you’ll likely be in the clear.

Here are a few examples of when a landlord might dismiss an applicant at this point:

  • Didn’t finish application
  • Didn’t consent to have information gathered about them
  • Didn’t provide references
  • Has prior evictions
  • Doesn’t meet credit score minimums
  • Can’t verify their income
  • History of late payments, damaging property, or breaking leases early

Most of these are yet to be verified, so you’re relying on the applicant to self-report this. If you state your requirements for a tenant on the application, anyone falling under those thresholds will likely not submit the application—which saves you time and money on screening.


Ask all of your applicants the same questions. For example, don’t ask a woman if she’s planning to have more children or someone who appears foreign about their country of origin. This helps to protect you from any discrimination accusations.

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4. Talk to Previous (or Current) Landlords

Landlords are a great resource for your research as they know first-hand how your applicant was as a tenant. In fact, they can provide you with information that often isn’t available in any report.

For example, late payments cannot be reported to credit bureaus until they’re at least 30 days late. Many landlords still won’t report late payments to avoid the hassle. If the tenant consistently paid weeks late, it wouldn’t show up on reports—but it’s still something you should know about and a good basis for disqualifying an applicant.

Talking to previous landlords does have its pitfalls, so here are a few best practices:

  • Don’t ask about medical history
  • Don’t ask about financials (protected under the FCRA)
  • Don’t ask about anything protected by the Fair Housing Act (FHA)
  • Ask the same questions for every applicant
  • Stick to facts
  • Only ask relevant questions

If you turn down an applicant and they find out that you were talking to a previous landlord about discriminatory or private topics, you will likely end up in a lawsuit.

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5. Avoid Discrimination When Establishing Rental History

The Fair Housing Act lists a number of protected classes. If a landlord denies an applicant because they fall into one of the protected classes, they may be sued.

These protected classes are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

Many groups of people fall into those protected classes that may not be obvious upfront. For example, you cannot ask someone’s age, ask about their children, or even ask where they’re from.

Discrimination gets trickier because it can be hard to prove that you didn’t discriminate. For example, let’s say you talked to a previous landlord about how the tenant is from another country and is hard to understand.

You may have a different, legitimate reason for denying their application, but if they find out their national origin was discussed, they can make a case that you were discriminating. For that reason, stick to relevant questions about their rental history.

With all of that in mind, here’s an example list of questions you should ask a prior landlord in order to establish rental history:

  • Can you confirm they rented from you?
  • Did they pay rent on time and in full?
  • Did they reasonably take care of the property?
  • Was the property in good condition when they left?
  • Did they break any rules of your lease agreement?
  • Were they respectful and proactive with communication?
  • Did they smoke on the property?
  • Did they receive their full security deposit back?
  • Did they give you proper notice before vacating?
  • Why did they move out?
  • Were they responsible for landscaping and snow removal?

Some landlords will be hesitant to talk to you for fear of a lawsuit. You can help put them at ease by letting them know that you have received consent from the potential tenant to discuss their rental history.

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6. Check for Prior Evictions

It’s essential that landlords check for prior evictions, as 21.7% of tenants who get evicted have prior evictions on their record.

The easiest way to check for evictions is to pay for a tenant screening service. You can choose to purchase all-in-one services that provide you credit reports, criminal checks, and eviction histories (such as AAOA’s Blue service).

Some tenant screening companies offer eviction history information a la carte for a much lower price (such as through LeaseRunner).

It’s also possible to pull this information for free as evictions are public records, and can be found through the state’s court website. However, this isn’t free in every state, and online sources may be lighter on details than physical records.


Check whether the service you select pulls nationwide, state, and/or local data. For most tenants, it’s best to choose an option with nationwide data. However, if you can confirm the tenant has lived in one site throughout their adult life, you can save some money by opting for only state and local data.

What if a Tenant Has No Rental History?

This would be either someone who has never rented before, or it’s been so long that there isn’t a reliable rental history to research. Perhaps your process is to only pay for state & local reports and your applicant comes from out of state.

Generally, no rental history isn’t a great reason to turn someone down out of hand, so you need to dig a little deeper into the reasons why and how to handle them.

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No Rental History – Too Young

Someone fresh out of college may not have a rental history. Perhaps they lived in the dorms, at home, or with a family member.

While you cannot deny housing based on someone’s age (that’s considered discrimination), this person is unlikely to have a long job history.

Landlords need to take this on a case-by-case situation. If the applicant graduated with a master’s degree and landed a 6-figure job right out of college, there’s probably nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, if this person has no rental history, no job history, and their job barely covers your debt-to-income parameters, perhaps another applicant would be the way to go.

Landlords can also request other documents to ensure the applicant can pay the rent including:

  • Tax forms
  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Official letter from an employer

Landlords are legally within their right to require a co-signer who would also be financially responsible for rent payments. This situation with a young renter and no history would certainly be an acceptable situation to do so.

No Rental History – Previously Owned Houses

Some applicants may have never rented a house before, or it’s been too long since they rented that no report will be accurate.

They may be “downgrading” to a rental after a move or want to avoid the headaches of homeownership, like having someone else handle maintenance issues.

While there is no prior landlord to talk to, reach out to any references, and pull credit and background history. Someone who’s owned property will have a report that shows if they regularly paid their mortgage.

Luckily, this type of renter will likely treat the property like they own it. The only concern you may have is losing great tenants after a year should they decide to buy again. That’s part of the judgment call you’ll have to make when screening tenants.