Screening Tenants at a Distance

by Chris on May 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on our social interactions. Experts warn that the social distancing guidelines currently in place in most states may be with us long into the summer, and possibly beyond.

To avoid liabilities — and avoid picking the wrong tenants — landlords may need to adapt their tenant screening policies, at least for the time being.

One of the most important rules will be to prequalify renters remotely before providing a property tour. Not only does this avoid unnecessary social interactions, it cuts down on time spent disinfecting the property after every showing.

Verifying a person’s identity remains a vital step in tenant screening. That used to be an easy step — simply meet up and check a photo ID. Now, those initial meetings may need to take place over Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, and the photo ID may need to be a scanned copy.

When meeting in person, landlords and leasing agents need to maintain some distance, even if no official order is in place.

With that in mind, it is not practical to provide tours of occupied units at this time. It may be an understatement to say that current tenants do not want strangers in their units during a pandemic.

Take the example of Kentucky renters who were given notice that the apartment they were self-isolating in was going to be shown to a prospective renter, over their objections. The tenants’ vocal complaint made it all the way to the governor’s office, where the governor himself described the landlord’s actions as “not smart.”

Alternatively, landlords can provide virtual tours from still photos, and leave the walk-through as the last step in the leasing process, once the property has been vacated and sanitized. Property managers are reporting that exiting tenants have been happy to take photos of units to share with prospects.

There is little doubt that nightmare tenants will try to use this crisis to their advantage. Online rental applications are problematic when there is no independent verification of the applicant’s identity and qualifications. Be wary of tenants who will not meet virtually or provide a photo ID. Also, watch for scammers who may try to use their circumstances to garner sympathy, or who offer to pay cash. Never allow an applicant to move in before running a tenant background check.

Speak with the previous landlord references. Many rental applicants will have paid late in March, April, or May, through no fault of their own. Some will have paid less than full rent. That is not necessarily a deal-breaker. What is important is whether the tenant was responsible enough to work something out with the previous landlord, and whether the applicant is forthcoming about past issues.

Run tenant screening reports as a last step. Verify the information in the rental application and speak with references first, then use the screening reports to confirm that the tenant is qualified.

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 is 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.

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