What Does Rental History Mean? (Make It Excellent)

If you are new to the rental market, you may have been surprised to see a section on “Rental History” on your apartment application.  What is the landlord looking for with this?  What does good rental history look like?  And what if I have some negative aspects to my past renting career, how can that affect me going forward. 

In this article, I am going to give you the answers to the most common questions regarding rental history, how to provide yours if asked and let you in on what the landlord is looking for with your rental history. 

What Does Rental History Look Like?

Your rental history is simply a list of the past few places you have lived, their address, phone, and landlord or manager’s name.  A couple of years back is usually all the landlord is looking for. 

Whether you are doing your rental application online or in person, more than likely you are going to come across a section that wants you to put down your previous rental history.  

What the landlord is wanting is a list of the last couple of places you lived, what dates you lived there, and possibly why you left.  Sometimes phone numbers, addresses, and names are also requested.  

If the form you are filling out is just a paper form, or perhaps the landlord just asked you to provide it to them somehow, these are the things they want you to put on there…

  • Name of Apartment Complex
  • Dates You Lived There
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Name of Manager or Landlord

This is really all you have to put down, as it is all your landlord is looking for with this.  They want to see that you have stayed somewhere before, successfully, and that the last landlord didn’t have to struggle to get your payment or have to evict you.   

Basically, your landlord wants to be able to call up the last landlord you rented from and just make sure that you were a good tenant.  

Anything past that and they aren’t going to care very much about.  The rental history is simply another way that landlords do their due diligence about the people they decide to rent to.  

Where To Find Rental History

There are two places your landlord can obtain rental records: From you yourself, or from your credit report.  However, your credit report is only going to have negative instances attached to it, not a full list of places you have lived. 

Be aware that landlords are also going to look for gaps in your rental history when you give it to them.  Gaps in rental history tend to show unseen problems you probably don’t want to tell them about.  If you DO have a gap in your rental history for whatever reason, make sure you tell your landlord why that is when you give them your rental history. 

Your landlord may simply choose to run a credit report on you instead and just be informed if there is anything negative like an eviction or late payments posted on your report.  Then, if there is nothing of interest, they move past the rental report altogether.   

Whichever way your landlord chooses to operate, know that wherever you are currently living may come up when you try to move.  

Rental History Questions

Most rental history questionnaires have the same few questions or modifications of the same questions.  A list of the most common ones you will come across are below, but these will be asked of your PREVIOUS LANDLORD, not necessarily yourself.  The information you provide them on the rental history report will allow them to call or email your previous landlord with these questions……

  • What dates did the tenant live at your apartment complex?
  • Did the tenant get their security deposit back?
  • Did the tenant cause any damage to the property while they were there?
  • Did the tenant have any complaints filed against them by neighbors?
  • Was the rent paid on time and in full each month?
  • Would you rent to them again?

Being a landlord, I can tell you the most important question on this list BY FAR is the last one…  Would you rent to this tenant again?   When I call another landlord this is the single question I am focused on.  If they were sad to see you go and would rent to you again, that means that you were a great tenant and they’ve more than likely had no problems with you.   

If they tell me that I am the 5th landlord to call them this week from the same tenant, I know what the deal is. 

What is Good Rental History?

Good rental history will show no breaks in renting, no negative inquiries on your credit report, and a full list of names and addresses of the places you have stayed during the last few years. 

As far as your credit report goes, a good rental history shows nothing.  There will literally be nothing regarding renting in your credit report if your rental history is good.  

If you are providing a rental history to your landlord, include everyplace you have stayed, along with their phone number.  Yes, landlords DO call each other. Frequently.  Lying or omitting something on your credit report should be done at the tenant’s own peril. 

Finally, the people you have listed for contacts on your rental history report should all be willing to give you rave reviews if your landlord does reach out to them.   I can tell you from experience, having a landlord warn me off of a potential tenant is the kiss of death for that applicant. 

Does Rental History Follow You State To State?

If you have something on your rental history negative enough to make it onto your credit report, it will follow you from state to state for at least 7 years from the time the incident or inquiry was reported. 

I am always preaching on here to current and future tenants alike to BE A GREAT TENANT!  At the moment, you may not think much of the consequences that can happen in the future, but be assured, they WILL follow you around. 

Even if nothing is bad enough to show up on a credit report, if the landlord calls one of your previous landlords you have had a bad experience with, that can ruin the chances to get into that apartment complex right then and there.  

And assuredly, whatever makes it onto your credit report is not only going to follow you from state to state, but it is going to make it difficult to buy a car, take out a loan, or get a credit card.  Actions have consequences.  Good actions have good consequences attached to them and bad actions have bad consequences attached to them.  If your parents never told you that before, I am. 

Can Rental History Be Added To Credit Report?

If you were evicted or have unpaid bills at your apartment complex, those things can be added to your credit report that can have a negative consequence on it.  

Putting positive payments on your credit report to show paying on time isn’t something that is GENERALLY done, it does happen for people who really want it on there, but you have to have an apartment complex that has the right software and reporting tools and works with a credit reporting agency, which isn’t everyone. 

Most landlords look for the LACK of anything on your credit report as a positive sign.  If you have made all your payments, didn’t cause any problems, and weren’t evicted, nothing is going to be on your credit report that has to do with renting.  So, a blank credit report IS a positive report you are getting from making your payments on time.  

It is ANYTHING showing up on your credit report that you don’t want to see there. 

Your rental history is the list of places you have lived over the last few years, the dates you stayed there, and perhaps a contact person.  Your landlord requests this so they can call your previous landlords and ask them what kind of a tenant you were for them before they approve your application. 

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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