Screening prospective tenants for broken leases or outstanding rent balances is an important part of a landlord's rental process. If a potential tenant has broken a previous lease and still owes another landlord money, this can be the deciding factor in whether or not to rent property to him.
Ask potential tenants to provide a list of previous residences. Most landlords will limit the list to all previous residences within the last five to 10 years. Call each rental property manager and ask for information on the applicant. She can tell you whether or not he fulfilled his lease obligations and if he owes any debts to the property. Making phone calls to all previous landlords listed, however, should not be the only step taken when digging into a person's rental history. Keep in mind that lots of people may only tell you what they want you to know, especially when they know bad rental history could keep them from renting from you.
Run a credit check on rental applicants through one of the three major credit-reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian or Equifax). This information is private and applicants will need to sign a release form authorizing you to have access to their credit reports. Any outstanding balances owed to other rental management companies or landlords will show up on a credit report as debts.
Run a search of county or district court records to check for any lawsuits that potential renters may be a party to. Visit your county's website and see if a civil litigant search feature is available. If it is not, you can call or visit the county or district clerk's office at the courthouse to search for lawsuit records. If any pending lawsuits involving a potential renter and property management companies or landlords are found, this could indicate that a lease has been broken.
Ask potential tenants to give other names that they have used. Running records searches under all known names may produce useful information as well.