Is Your Applicant Telling the Truth?

by Chris on May 25, 2010

The stakes are high when renting your unit. If you choose the wrong applicant, you may end up paying for an eviction, or find your rental property damaged.

landlord credit checkBut how do you know if your applicant is telling you the truth?

Tenant screening is a two-step process that requires Factual Reconciliation and Independent Verification.

Pre-Screen Rental Applicants

When an applicant phones about your unit, you have an opportunity to screen them. Don’t let them ask all of the questions. It helps to have a script ready so you can ask the same questions of everyone. That’s easier for comparison, and also a safe way to avoid discrimination claims.

Choose questions that may be on your application:

When are you available to move in?
Where are you living now?
Why are you leaving?
Where do you work?

Try ending the conversation by asking the applicant for a description of his or her car so you can identify them when they swing by for a tour.

During the tour, ask additional questions. Bring a notepad to jot down answers. Listen for inconsistencies from previous conversations, or from friends or family that may be touring with this applicant.

tenant screeningOnce an applicant has completed the rental application, it’s time for a little detective work as you review their answers.  Did they leave blank spaces on pertinent questions? Is the employment information consistent with earlier conversations? Is the car listed the same one they arrived in? Any attempt to avoid disclosing information, or providing conflicting information is reason to reject this applicant.

Conduct a Landlord Credit Check

With the factual information you have already collected in mind, run your tenant screening reports. Compare the information, paying special attention to rental history and employment. These reports will offer independent verification of the facts. Equally important, they will show you what you didn’t know – and help you avoid financial loss and potential liability to other tenants and neighbors.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Services, 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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Wiand June 15, 2010 at 6:41 am

All good suggestions. Just finishing up a remodel job/clean up of a bad tenant. 1st one in 10 years of ownership. Just for others this particular tenant told me of him being on probation for 5 DUI’s AFTER signing the lease. Rolled the dice and I lost, I guess. Luckily, I was able to deal w/his parole officier to get him out. Not a typical “criminal” sort of speak and I mean physically intimidating or threatening by any means but a bad tenant as it turned out. Thanks for the info and website.

Lesley Billings June 15, 2010 at 9:47 am

The first time I used your service after previous bad tenants (and there were many) the applicants came out good. The rent was always paid on time. They were not problem tenants. However, when they left there were damages, but not the kind you could see upon a quick look around inspection. The brand new dryer I provided within 3 weeks of renting had not been cleaned and had a fire inside. The almost new countertops were blistered from hot pots. The almost new sinks looked 50 yrs. old. The side by side fridge was all broken inside from dropping heavy objects inside onto the base. This came to almost 3 months rent. Therefore I should have done more research to other things, not just the ability to pay. My fault. I will pay attention to your suggestions regarding past history. You are right. Thanks for the info.

Liz O. June 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

I’ve learned not to give people the benefit of the doubt during the screening application process. It’s extremely important to have them fill out every single line on the application and for the landlord to enter it correctly in the computer. Then, if the results are not clear, i.e. “nothing found”, that should be a red flag for you. I had one like that and it turned out he was lying about everything and had an arrest record. He looked fine, so we let him sign the lease and move in. Within two weeks, we found out he was a drug dealer. It cost us thousands to get rid of him and repair the damage. Next time I’d cover myself by doing a criminal background check if not sure.

Rich R June 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I am very careful now and have not had a bad tenant in some time. In fact we get along fine. I try to be very attentive to their needs; occasionally I don’t measure up and they leave – at least they know I tried.
It is also important to avoid renting to someone who would not appreciate the apartment. For example, if it’s a cosy apartment in an old building and I sense they want something bigger and newer, I lay it out like it is – particularly if they want to rent it from out of town – sight unseen.
Several years ago, I had a couple of problem tenants who had rented their units from a previous property owner. In that case, I just made it clear that they had to move – on their own or through eviction and they made wise decisions.
When contacting their employers or landlords, I sometimes will not use the contact information given in their application – I get the telephone number from the company’s web site or the white pages. I look up the owner of record for their current residence on the county web site and call that person.

Joni P June 16, 2010 at 7:22 am

Rich R., Thanks for the tips. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought to use the company’s web site info to verify employment or to use county records to contact the owner of their current residence. I’ve had a couple of occasions where I got rave reviews on a prospective tenant from an “employer” &/or “Landlord” and it just didn’t feel right. My gut just felt that I wasn’t actually speaking to their employer / Landlord; just someone they had asked to say they were. In each case the tenants turned out to be BIG problems. Unfortunately, my properties are in a small town and a lot of the businesses are “mom and pop” and don’t necessarily have a web site but I will definitely search for one in the future.

ed June 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

What’s the best way to get first hand, up front facts about a potential renter? I used the background check that showed no obvious red flags and so far I have lucked out with the first renter of my old home. However, I was never able to get some of the basic information verified, such as: verifying their checking account status, information from their prior landlord about any problems they may have had in the past. Even prior employers were unwilling to tell me about their employment status and income. I realize these days, everyone is reluctant to hand out this information and I suppose that is a good thing in many ways but having rented the house on a good reference and only scraps of information verified this time, next time I want to be more prepaired and get the facts I need to be confident I have good people at the door. What’s the best way to get the fact? Is it legal or accepted to to expect a prospective renter to surrender a current bank statement? And how do I get employers to open up? Thanks for the help. Ed in Ventura.

Bil C June 29, 2010 at 5:39 am

Ed, You raise good points in all. Another thing is when a landlord has only 2-3 properties and long periods of time go by before having to qualify an applicant. Your skill level drops when you don’t do the job often. Easy to make mistakes.

charlene browne June 29, 2010 at 7:47 am

It takes longer, but most will provide that information if you request it in writing. Call first to find out who you should send it to.

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