An Ontario tenant who was evicted at least seven times for failure to pay rent and accused of lying on rental applications has been convicted of criminal fraud.
The case came to light only after investigative reporters with the Toronto Star uncovered the extensive trail of landlords who had been victimized by the same tenant. The news coverage highlighted how difficult it is for landlords to fully investigate an applicant’s rental history, primarily because of a lack of access to prior eviction records.
Privacy laws protect tenants from exposure, even if they have been evicted multiple times for the same actions.
The ease by which problem tenants can game the eviction process prompted a Superior Court Judge in Ontario to publicly decry the system that allows these tenants to take advantage of one landlord after another, living rent-free while enjoying continuing delays.
In the fraud case, the 50-year-old tenant was dubbed a “seasoned and practiced liar” by the judge, according to a news report covering the trial.
Her landlords described the woman as charming and seemingly responsible throughout the application process.
How to Scam a Landlord
The tenant was convicted of knowingly deceiving at least two of the landlords by providing false information in the rental application process in order to secure the landlords’ cooperation. The rental application, as well as follow-up emails, contained false information about the woman’s employment and previous addresses. She appears to have identified a relative as an employment reference, and to have provided landlords with (false) information about her husband’s income.
Several witnesses were available to contradict the information the woman had provided to landlords.
The tenant acknowledged the false statements, but claimed she did not know that it was against the law to include this information in a rental application, according to the news report.
Once the tenant gained access to a rental home, she would complain about the condition of the property. Then, she would use those complaints as justification for withholding rent. She would raise these claims when faced with an eviction, and frequently delayed the multiple evictions through the appeal process.
In January, she was convicted of criminal fraud and false pretense, and will be sentenced in March.
How to Spot a Fraudulent Rental Application
While the threat of a fraud conviction may provide solace to landlords who find themselves victimized by professional tenants, the best strategy is to avoid the income loss. Landlords must fully realize the disadvantage they face when screening tenants without access to prior eviction or even some criminal records that would instantly reveal a scammer.
Despite this disadvantage, landlords can rise to the occasion and win the fraud game:
Professional Tenants Avoid Professional Landlords
Set the stage that you are a professional landlord and rental property manager, and you will repel bad tenants. Start with the rental ad. Include a tenant background check requirement. Prequalify renters over the phone. Ask for ID and meet with prospects briefly before showing them around the property. This eliminates the risk of being talked into renting on the spot, a hallmark of bad tenants.
Don’t take shortcuts with the tenant screening requirements or make other concessions right away. Bad tenants may be testing to see what they can get away with.
Treat the Rental Application Like a Legal Document
Include a warning at the head of the rental application that the information will be verified, and that false information is considered fraud and grounds for a subsequent eviction. Explain that omissions are the same as false statements.
Make sure that each adult occupant completes a separate rental application.
Include a declaration at the bottom of the rental application that verifies the information is true and complete, and provides permission to conduct a tenant background check.
Make sure the tenant provides a valid signature beneath the declaration.
Treat the Rental Application with Some Skepticism
Take the tenant’s perceived charm out of the equation. Read the application and see if it makes sense given what information you have been provided by the applicant. This is another reason why it is best to prequalify an applicant over the phone — before they’ve had a chance to concoct a story.
Actually verify the information in the application, especially the employment reference.
Run a tenant credit report to flag inconsistencies, like inconsistent employment information or undisclosed addresses.
Always speak with current and former landlords, taking steps to ensure you are speaking about the same tenant.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.