Checking and referencing centre

In this guide, we have resources to help you check and reference your applicants.

Choosing a good tenant is THE single most important thing you do as a landlord.

Remember:

  • Once your tenants have been let in, it can take many months to get them out again.  And may be expensive if you need to resort to court procedures
  • Your property is a valuable investment.  You need to be sure that your tenants look after it
  • Con men often appear respectable - that's their job!

There are several elements to checking and referencing, which form the contents of this section:

Contents

  1. The initial meeting
  2. Taking details from the prospective tenant
  3. Double checking the information provided
  4. Following up references
  5. Checking out the applicant online
  6. Obtaining a professional credit report
  7. Other warning signs

 

1. The initial meeting

You will (in most cases) have an initial meeting where you talk to the applicant and show them round the property.  

If you are arranging to meet them at the property - bear in mind that many applicants do not show up.  You may, therefore, want to ask them to ring you when they are on their way just to confirm that they wlll be attending, so you do not have a wasted journey.

You should try to meet the applicant (or if there is more than one, all the applicants) before renting to them as you can learn a lot about them in a meeting which may not appear on a paper or online application.  Listen to any warning feelings you may have - your subconscious may be trying to tell you something important.

Remember - if they rent your property you may be dealing with them over many years.  Are they someone you will be able to work with?

If you don't meet the applicants in person, it is particularly important that you do all the checking and follow up exercises discussed below.


2. Taking details from the applicant

it is absolutely critical that you take proper details from all applicants.  For example, these are needed

  • To enable you to check them out
  • To enable you to do a right to rent check (see the separate section for this here)
  • So you have information you can use to trace them if they disappear owing you money
  • So you have details of next of kin in case anything happens to them

The best way to obtain this information is to get them to complete a tenant information form. This can either be done at your initial meeting (either at your office or at the property) or by sending them the form to compete or putting it online.

We have a form you can use here.  However, this is probably best used as a starting point for developing your own form, based on your own experience.  Note also that this form is a bit old and does not provide for the right to rent checking (we have a separate form for 'right to rent' checks here).

It is probably a good idea also to get the applicant to sign a number of the reference authority letters so you can send these out with your letters to referees.
 

General Letter of Authority

This letter is a bit different from the others as it is coming from the applicant and not you.  So you may want to leave most of the fields blank, to be completed by the applicant (e.g. their address etc) or by you (the referee's name and address).

See also the general notes on the reference letters below.

The letter is the top one in the document generator form linked from the icon below.


Create document

Bank statements

Many landlords also request at least three months worth of bank statements.  This is strongly recommended as you will be able to see whether the applicant really can afford your rent or not. 

Most applicants would prefer not to do this, but unless you are really sure about the applicant (and remember con men are very persuasive) its best to insist - maybe make it a condition of considering their application that the bank statements are provided.  If there are a lot of applicants for your property, you can afford to be picky.

 

3. Double checking the information provided

This is important.  The applicant may SAY he is a manager at Posh Widgets Ltd but how do you know?  How do you even know that Posh Widgets Ltd exists?  That phone number may be the number of a friend, primed to give a good report.

So how do you check? 

It's best to assume, for the purpose of the checking exercise, that all the information provided is unreliable unless proved correct via an independent source. 

So in the Posh Widgets case, you need to check to see both that the company exists and that the information provided about it is correct.  Posh Widgets are going, via the tenant's salary, to be paying your rent, so you need to know a bit about them. 

Checks can be done:

  • By a search on the internet 
  • By looking them up in Companies House (if they are a limited company)
  • By looking in a relevant directory
  • By asking around if you know anyone who would know about them

Do this for ALL the information provided.  For example, Posh Widgets may exist, but is that telephone number really the correct number?  Or is it the number of the applicant's friend.  

A good trick with telephone numbers is to just enter it into the Google or Bing search box and see what comes up.  If it is the telephone number of a genuine company this will be shown in the results you get.

When ringing an employer it is best to ring the number given on their website or in the telephone directory rather than the number given by the applicant.  That way you can be sure that you are speaking to someone at the company and not the applicant's friend.

It is particularly important that you double check the information you are given if you feel in any way uneasy about the applicant.  Your subconscious may be telling you something.

 

4. Following up the references

This is usually done via letter so you have a record of what was said.  However telephone calls can also be useful, and many landlords will ring the referee up before writing to them:

  • If they have anything negative to say, they may not want to put it in writing  
  • You have the opportunity to ask follow-on questions
  • You may be able to tell a lot by their tone of voice and what they don't say
  • You can also check their address

Keep a careful note of the conversation.  Needless to say, you need to be sure that the telephone number is a genuine one!

Here are some notes on the reference letters provided (notes on the general authority letter are above).  But first

Some general notes on the letters:

Because of the way the document generator works, (depending on your system) it is sometimes difficult if not impossible for addresses to print out in single spacing.  You may, therefore, want to use the letters more as a draft for creating your own. 

The way to do this is to generate the letter and then click the green 'view' button.  You can then highlight and copy the text and paste it into your own word processing program.

As these are just letters rather than legal forms (where you need to be very careful about changing the wording), feel free to adapt them to the particular circumstances of your applicant. 
 

Employers' reference

This is perhaps the most important of all as the employer will effectively be paying your rent.  If the applicant is employed you should always take an employers reference.

Feel free to adapt the questions if there are some you think are more relevant to your applicant.
 

Bank reference

Most times you are doing this just to check that the applicant does actually have a bank account.  The information provided by banks is sometimes so cagey as to be almost useless.  However, it is a good idea to check that the bank account information provided is correct.
 

Landlord's reference

You need to be a bit careful here as if the landlord is desperate to get rid of their tenant they may be economic with the truth.  This is where a phone call, when you can listen to their tone of voice, can be particularly helpful. 

It may also be a good idea to take a reference from previous landlords, where this problem will not arise.


Personal reference

Again you need to be careful as all too often the referee will be primed to give a good reference.  However, they can be useful if the referee is genuinely independent.

 

5. Checking out the applicant further

Bearing in mind how difficult it can be to get rid of a bad tenant, it is often worth taking the trouble to do some further checks - particularly if you feel uneasy about them.

Online

It's amazing what you can find online if you look for it.  Obvious places where you may find the applicant are:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

However just putting the applicant's name into a Google search box may bring up some interesting information. 

Also, if the applicant claims to be a member of a trade or profession, there is no harm in double checking this.  Most professions will have some way that you can check membership. 

For example, you can check whether someone is a solicitor via the Law Society's 'find a solicitor' website.

Offline

If you would like to rent to the applicant but are a bit worried about them - make some excuse to visit them at their current home.  (For example, you can say that you want to drop off a further application form and happen to be in their area etc).  

This can be quite time-consuming but will be well worth it as you will be able to tell a lot about them from seeing them at home.  

 

6. Obtaining a professional credit reference report

These are generally done by letting agents to check prospective tenants, and it is highly recommended that it be done for ALL tenants. 

There are a number of services you can use.  A few are:

You can find others on the internet, or ask your Insurance Company or local Landlords Association (who may have some special deals).

A warning to letting agents.  

You should not just rely on the credit reference report.  

A recent case, admittedly in the County Court but still of interest, awarded substantial compensation to a landlord who had suffered losses when tenants failed to pay rent and had to be evicted.  Her agent had failed to follow up discrepancies in the tenant's details after getting a positive credit reference report.  

The Judge found that they had failed in their duty to her under the implied terms in the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

You can read more about this case here.

 

7. Other warning signs

There are a few other things you should watch out for.

Offers to pay cash

If a tenant offers to pay the full amount of the fixed term rent up front in cash - that's a good sign, right?  Well no, actually it's a classic sign of a criminal tenant who wants to convert your property into a cannabis farm.


An offer to pay up front in cash coupled with a desire to keep you away from the property should put you on red alert.

Obviously, they will not want you to visit the property if they are going to use it for illegal purposes!

Note also that sometimes criminals will use apparently respectable people to sign up as tenants.  They will then move out leaving the property to the criminals to do what they will with it.

You can read more about this problem in Ben Reeve Lewis' post on the Landlord Law Blog here.

Scams and frauds

Please, can you also read all the scams and frauds in the special section on this here.  And remember them!

'Desperate tenants'

If you have applicants come to you 'desperate' for immediate accommodation who try to persuade you to let them in without taking the time to do the normal checks - harden your hearts and say 'no'.

These invariably turn out to be nightmare tenants.  

You are a private landlord and your property is an important investment. It's not your job to house the homeless.  It's your job to ensure that you have a decent tenant living in your property so your business is not put at risk!


ALL tenants must submit to your normal referencing procedures.  Do not allow any exceptions.

Your gut instinct

As you get experience with dealing with tenants, you will start to have instinctive feelings about them.  For example, you may feel uneasy about Mr X, even though on paper he seems fine.

If that is the case - avoid Mr X.  Even if it will leave you with a void.  There is probably a good reason for your unease - your subconscious may have spotted something.  Learn to trust it.

There are lots of decent tenants around.  You can afford to wait a few weeks until you have a tenant you feel happy with.  Or, to put it another way, you cannot afford the lost rent, damage and the expense of eviction which a bad tenant can bring.

Payment

Finally, I just want to remind you that you should not allow anyone into occupation until they have paid the first months rent and the deposit (the FULL deposit, DON'T allow them to pay by installments, ever, as you will have to register all the payments or you will be non-compliant with the regs and subject to the penalties).  

The payment should also be by cleared funds - so if they have paid by cheque you need to be sure that the payment has cleared into your bank account before you let them in.

Again, you should make no exceptions.

 

And finally

If you do everything set out on this page you have the best chance of getting a good tenant who will stay with you for many years.  Inevitably, particularly if you manage many properties, a bad tenant will slip through occasionally but this is considerably less likely than if you leave these procedures out.

Always remember - it is better to leave the property empty a few extra days or weeks than lose thousands in unpaid rent and damage to the property while you bring expensive and time-consuming court proceedings to evict an unsatisfactory tenant later

If you do get a bad or non-paying tenant, the other sections on Landlord Law will help you.  But you should do all you can to avoid bad tenants in the first place.

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