Tenant Screening: Outsmarting the Artful Dodger

by Chris on October 13, 2020

Most rental applicants out there right now are decent people looking for a place to live. But among them are a handful who have no intention of paying rent, and others who have shown no respect for their previous landlords or tenancy agreements.

The trick to tenant screening, of course, is distinguishing between them.

In the aftermath of COVID, many applicants will have some issue to overcome in their credit or rental histories. What matters is how an individual applicant has chosen to deal with these challenges. Tenants who are forthcoming with issues and willing to discuss their efforts at rehabilitation likely deserve a chance. But where a tenant has shown no effort to set things right with the previous landlord, a prospective landlord should be wary.

Enter the Dodger — the tenant who only now is realizing the consequences of their bad actions, and who now must learn the art of manipulating their way out of a tenant background check.

Even before the pandemic, a survey of experienced property managers found 95% had witnessed some form of tenant fraud. These are the landlords who have been trained to spot it — and the landlords who are best able to spread potential income losses across multiple units. Small landlords seldom can afford to take that risk.

It’s no coincidence that tenants with troubled credit or rental history choose to apply with small landlords who often are perceived as lax, inexperienced, or unprofessional. Bad tenants openly admit this strategy because they know professional property managers who have filled numerous vacancies are far more likely to recognize when an applicant is dodging questions.

Fortunately, outsmarting these applicants is as simple as adopting the same tenant screening policies as professional property managers. Like seasoned travelers who have learned not to stow their valuables in their pockets, landlords can deter potential fraud before handing over the keys and insulate themselves from this infrequent — but predictable — income loss.

To avoid appearing lax, inexperienced, or unprofessional, landlords should pay attention to their rental ads — and how those ads are perceived. Professional ads include detailed property descriptions, sharp photos, and a list of qualifications.

Problem tenants tend to skip those ads. They look for clues about the landlord, like ads with no photos, poor quality photos, or pics that are improperly loaded. Another perfect opening for a nightmare tenant: signs of a rent drop — evident from previously posted ads.

Ads where the landlord breaks the rules are especially susceptible to attracting problem tenants. Spelling out the “ideal” rental applicant with descriptors like young, retired, professional, single, no kids, or no government assistance will attract like-minded applicants — those who also break the rules.

Some of these tenants already feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to exploiting private landlords and living rent-free. These applicants certainly have no compunction about victimizing a landlord who is unprofessional.

The follow-up with a rental applicant is equally important. Using a script to prequalify tenants keeps the conversation professional and allows little opportunity for the tenant to test the waters by asking for concessions before they’ve seen the property to get a sense of the landlord’s resolve.

To catch potential fraud, watch for tenants who want to move in right away, pay more rent than the landlord is requesting (which they ultimately won’t pay), or by charming the landlord into trusting that the tenant is amply qualified.

Other strategies include manipulating a sympathetic landlord with a hard luck story, or becoming belligerent and insisting a background check will invade the tenant’s privacy.

When completing the application, the dodger often will leave blanks to avoid all-out lies. An incomplete application is a major red flag that the applicant has something to hide.

More brazen applicants will mischaracterize either the amount or the source of income, hide pets, lie about occupants, or claim to have no way to reach the previous landlords.

Landlords large or small can outsmart a dodger by staying on course with tenant screening:

Check photo ID;
Demand completed rental application;
Verify the application;
Check references; and,
Run a tenant credit check.

Even the craftiest dodgers will have trouble piercing that firewall.

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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