Landlording & Rental Properties

How I Was Almost Fooled by Evicted Tenants (& What I Learned)

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investor-mistakes

The top thing in every landlord’s mind is to ensure that you don’t recruit a tenant who will only result in an eviction notice. After all, having a troubled tenant can lead to cash flow problems, which is obviously bad. On that same note, not only can this lead to financial distress, but it can be time consuming and energy draining—and having to force others to move out of your property ASAP is simply not something you want to be doing.

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Honestly, everything that I am about to say is true. I mean, sure, you see on the news channel, the internet and sometimes you hear from others these horrifying stories, but to experience one yourself is something else entirely. It was truly mind blowing to witness firsthand how much lie-weaving people were willing to do in order to trap some unwitting landlord to rent them the property. Want to hear the story? Well, here we go.

landlord-policies

They Looked Like Great Candidates

One day, the mother of a family called to give a walkthrough of property. I always make sure to do pre-vetting over phone to make sure they fit the qualifications, i.e. the applicant has to produce 3x net monthly income in addition to good rental history, verification of time on their job, and also good landlord references. In my case, I thought I hit the jackpot—after all, it was a beautiful family with a stay at home mother, hard working father, grandmother, and newborn daughter. Why, you couldn’t possibly ask for better tenants!

Related: 5 Scams That Trick Landlords Into Accepting Less-Than-Stellar Tenants

The family took a walkthrough of the house and absolutely loved it (as they should because that home was truly lovely). As a result, they decided that they wanted to move forward and discuss terms and legalities. But here is where things start to get really interesting.

On their application, they had their current residence, in addition to the contact information for their present landlord. So, as per routine, I ran the application through, and after some brief investigation, I discovered that they were being evicted from their current residence. However, when I contacted the family, they waved away my concerns and said that it was simply a glitch, assuring me that the landlord could verify (red flag alert!). I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I called the landlord (who I later found out was a family member posing as a landlord).

buy-and-hold-mistakes

Don’t Take All References at Face Value

The landlord a.k.a. family member mentioned that they were good tenants, and if given the chance, they would absolutely love to rent to them again. Obviously, I couldn’t take a mere word for something as serious as an eviction, so what I did from there was pull the public tax records out—which in turn showed the name of the actual landlord along with his true address.

Related: How to Pacify Your Most Indignant Tenants With One Simple Strategy

It doesn’t take much guesswork to know what I did next. I whizzed over there, and the (genuine) landlord mentioned that the family that he had as tenants were in fact being evicted and looking to get my place ASAP in fear that they would be without a home. The moment I heard this, I went ahead and approved the tenants out of generosity.

In a dream world, that last statement would have been the case, but in actuality I declined them. 

Honestly, the whole situation was mentally straining, and I just wanted to point out that these things happen in real life and not just in stories you hear from other people, so the moral of this story is that tenants do lie, so you should always do thorough due diligence. 

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

Investors: Let me know—what’s YOUR worst tenant story?

Leave your comments below!

Sterling is an multifamily investor specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets. With just under a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Sterling was involved with the management of over $10MM in capital, which is deployed across a $18.9MM real estate portfolio made up of multifamily apartments. Through the company he founded Sonder Investment Group, he owns just under 400 units. Sterling was featured on the BiggerPockets Podcast and has been contributing content to BiggerPockets since 2014, with over 200 posts on topics ranging from single family investing and apartment investing to wholesaling and scaling a business.

    Desiree M. rental_property_investor from Sunnyvale, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Good idea to double check the landlord info on the county accessors website! I am always skeptical about over phone vetting. People can be anyone over the phone.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Glad you found the insight resourceful Desiree. Have you ran into a similar situation with a untruthful prospective d tenant?
    Michael Khakshouri property_manager from New York, NY
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Sterling – where did you find out they were being evicted? Did you do a search in housing court?
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great question Michael. I use a property management software that runs their credit, criminal, and current/previous residency.
    Stephan K. rental_property_investor from Clearwater, FL
    Replied over 3 years ago
    What software do you use?
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Propertyware by real page
    Lisa DuFaux investor from New Port Richey, Florida
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Good post, Sterling. I can confirm…I have learned a few red flags the hard way. If someone is really in a hurry to move in you should be very careful no matter how reasonable their explanation sounds. I signed a lease with a woman once and the next day, a neighbor came over to warn me about her (too late, since I had already signed with her.) She was being evicted from the house across the street and the woman was actually afraid of her! The boyfriend who paid the deposits ended up being afraid of her too and moved out! Fortunately, she agreed to leave after living there for a month. I was lucky to learn a good lesson at a fairly low cost.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Yes usually the urgency in move-in date can be a major red flag especially if they didn’t end on good terms with previous landlord. Glad you were able to get the evicted tenant out of your property without going through the whole legal process.
    Desiree M. rental_property_investor from Sunnyvale, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Lisa. How did you get the bad tenant out 3 months into a new lease?
    Lisa DuFaux investor from New Port Richey, Florida
    Replied over 3 years ago
    The short answer is I was lucky! She basically knew that I was on to her and with the boyfriend out of the picture she knew she couldn’t pay. Instead of making it difficult, she just agreed to leave.
    Dawn A. rental_property_investor from Milwaukee, WI
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I’ve had potential tenants lie to me more often than I can count. You can’t take everything at face value. People may sometimes come up with interesting schemes to keep a roof over their head (even if they know they cannot pay more than the initial move in cost).
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I completely agree Dawn. That’s why its always best to have set criteria and to always follow it when screening tenants.
    Elaine Gee investor from Englishtown, New Jersey
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great post
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Glad you enjoyed the read Elaine. Have you ran into a similar situation in your career?
    Cody Barrett
    Replied over 3 years ago
    “In a dream world, that last statement would have been the case, but in actuality I declined them.” The statement I read before that made my jaw drop! LOL I was like WHAT?!?! And then you hit me with the, “just kidding I declined them..” hahah! Nice catch in finding out the real story behind them sir! I will be vetting for my first set of tenants in about a week after the rehab is done. I am very nervous about doing the proper due diligence and still signing on a rough tenant…. Mostly because I can’t afford a bad tenant lol with this being my first investment property and managing tenants in general….. Thank you for the post!!
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Glad you got a good laugh out of that comment. Do you have pre set criteria for screening tenants i.e tenant must make 3x monthly income, been minimum 1 year on job etc.
    Deanna Opgenort rental_property_investor from San Diego, CA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Be a screening Nazi. If you don’t spend 10 hrs doing the background/reference checks on tenants that you are serious about you can might easily spend 10x that having to get rid of them. Call references, look up court records, verify everything they tell you (they say they’ve been there 10 years — what does the landlord say? Does the landlord’s name check out with the ownership on the property where they live? Zillow has owner info, & you may be able to verify phone number of owner online). Call their work – they can confirm income. Interesting one was a guy out on a dubious “disablity” for the past 18 mos until two weeks before. He found out they were going to need to move & suddenly he returned to work. Clue was total amount earned in the year was exactly one paycheck, and a guarded and less-than-enthusiastic response by the receptionist when I asked if he worked there. She was very limited as to what she could say, but she could confirm that he had in fact only worked 2 weeks of the entire year. Needless to say, since he was the sole wage-earner their annual income wasn’t adequate.
    Jacqueline Sapp investor from Washington, District of Columbia
    Replied over 3 years ago
    “Be a screening Nazi” — That’s a good thing to rent by!
    Max T. investor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Replied over 3 years ago
    “In his free time he trains for a world record” What record?
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    It’s the “world’s fastest fireman’s carry”.
    Deanna Opgenort rental_property_investor from San Diego, CA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I try to check their name in the County Superior Court records before I even call back (check by last name, in case they are going by a nickname). Best “attempt” was the guy who told me that they were moving because “the landlord was selling the house”. The eviction order had just been finalized by the court 3 days before, but the multiple loose dog, firearms in public & salmon poaching charges would have eliminated him even if there weren’t a newly-minted eviction order (yes, multiple counts of salmon poaching. Rural area. I can’t make this stuff up). Fortunately the local court records are easily searchable, and fairly accurate.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Glad you were able to get to the bottom of that Deanna. Is the unit they were applying for now currently rented?
    Alex Craig from Memphis, TN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Most tenants are not nearly as smart as they think they are. We sniff out this crap all the time. These types of tenants best shot to succeed with there lying shenanigans is calling local landlords with the generic For Rent sign in the yard. Professional investors and Property Management has seen this act far to often.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great points Alex. Has a similar story happened to you in your career as an investor?
    Michelle
    Replied over 3 years ago
    My most amazingly bad prospective tenants broke into the vacant property that I was advertising. They got in through a side window, then unlocked the back door from the inside and started moving in. A neighbor who was helping watch the house for us said they were “running from their van to the house to move things in as quickly as possible”. We called the police, but by the time they arrived the people had unloaded and left again. Next, I got a call from the electric company wanting to verify these people were renting from us since they were trying to turn on the power. We called the police again, but they said there was no law against attempting to turn on the power. Finally, the police officer gave us his direct number, and he was able to catch the people breaking in with another load of furniture when we called him. The people said they needed a place right away since their eviction notice said they had to be out of their apartment by 6:00 (sound like my dream tenants) , so they figured they would move in first and then pay us later. Yeah, right! We agreed not to press charges if they got their furniture out and never returned.
    Jennifer Rysdam rental_property_investor from Luverne, MN
    Replied 10 months ago
    Holy crap! How exactly did they EXPECT that to turn out for them, lol!
    Greg Parker contractor from Montgomery, AL
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Breaking in and putting stuff “in” the house. Now I have heard it all? Good grief.
    Matthew Pinkston rental_property_investor from Yokohama Shi, Kanagawa-ken
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I loved that little feint at the end:) This is a very good anecdote to reinforce the importance of double checking! I ran into a similar situation and could have gotten in trouble without a verifiable source for the background check. If you’re not willing to take that step yourself, hire a good PM to do it for you. Anything else is asking for trouble. Good article!
    shantanu sinha
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hello Sterling White, Good work, as you double checked the original land lord. But tell me how could you able to check that they were evicted? That’s very difficult task during these days. Often when people show their hurry to shift, the landowners should check their background history, just as to remain safe and avoid renting your house to anyone who would create a mess there. Now days it better to access their identity proofs, so that you can analyze them through and check upon those, whom you are willing to rent the house. Thanks for this post. Hope many would now be aware of this. Shantanu sinha
    shantanu sinha
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hello Sterling White, Good work, as you double checked the original land lord. But tell me how could you able to check that they were evicted? That’s very difficult task during these days. Often when people show their hurry to shift, the landowners should check their background history, just as to remain safe and avoid renting your house to anyone who would create a mess there. Now days it better to access their identity proofs, so that you can analyze them through and check upon those, whom you are willing to rent the house. Thanks for this post. Hope many would now be aware of this. Shantanu sinha
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Glad you found the information valuable SHANTANU.
    shantanu sinha
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hello Sterling White, Good work, as you double checked the original land lord. But tell me how could you able to check that they were evicted? That’s very difficult task during these days. Often when people show their hurry to shift, the landowners should check their background history, just as to remain safe and avoid renting your house to anyone who would create a mess there. Now days it better to access their identity proofs, so that you can analyze them through and check upon those, whom you are willing to rent the house. Thanks for this post. Hope many would now be aware of this. Shantanu sinha
    Larrs Briggs
    Replied over 3 years ago
    We always pull public records, in our case they are available through our MLS, so we do a quick search and a quick phone call to the reference usually tells us when someone has lied. Easy denial.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thank you for the sound insight Larrs. A tenant lying on their application is a sure way for them to get denied.
    Jacqueline Sapp investor from Washington, District of Columbia
    Replied over 3 years ago
    The first two times I tried to evict for nonpayment, the tenant claimed deaths in the family and the eviction hearings were postponed. Then I received a letter from the Justice Department that my property was being used for drug dealing and that they would seize it. When I filed to evict on the drug charge, the woman who appeared in court and swore she was my tenant wasn’t. She told the judge she’d removed the drug dealers and it would never happen again if she could work out a payment deal for the back rent. I had the eviction signed that day but only after the attorney and I made the judge aware that the woman he was dealing with had just lied about her identity.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Now that is a story Jacqueline. Thanks for sharing. I bet that took quite the patience to get through.
    Sharon Thomas investor from Houston, Texas
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I was screening a tenant for my sister’s condo in GA. My sister was impressed; the tenant came to the property and filled out all the paperwork, prompt as can be. Then, she scanned and emailed me her r driver’s license, which was for Texas. She had some feeble story about why…military, blah, blah. Anyway, I pulled out my driver’s license to compare against hers. The expiration time frames did not match time frames in Texas. Unfortunately for her, I live in Texas. On to the next applicant.
    Sharon Thomas investor from Houston, Texas
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Oh, and the holograms were all off.
    Cameron Norfleet from Hamden, CT
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great post! After I ask the landlord the generic questions concerning the prospective tenant, I usually ask verifying questions based on information that I get from public records such as “What year did you purchase the property?”, “Are you the only owner on title?”, “Is your mortgage still with Bank of America”…. knowing that their mortgage is actually with Chase. If they had a friend or family member posing as their former landlord, they’re most likely not going to know the answers to these questions. 🙂
    Kimberly H. from Chicago Suburbs, Illinois
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Wow those questions are great!
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    It is high unlikely they will be able to answer those questions. Thank you for bringing that tip up Cameron!
    Kimberly H. from Chicago Suburbs, Illinois
    Replied over 3 years ago
    This post and it’s comments are awesome!! That’s good you caught that. Your lucky you were able to find the current landlords address. Our companies tax bills go to a UPS store and our name is so common no one can find us. And no one has land lines anymore so I’m surprised to hear people have success finding phone numbers. Recently, I got one application that looked very strong, high income high credit score. But I needed applications from all the other adults that would be living there. Just got though checking out all kinds of stuff, employment verification, calling references, doing the debt to income math, social media, etc., got previous landlord check which was good, last piece I was waiting on was current landlord check. I *almost* wanted to accept them without getting the current landlord verification since the previous landlord check and all the other work I did was all good, thankfully I didn’t. Current landlord said 3 late pays in past year, one 10 days late. Of course on the 4 applications I got from the 4 adults where I ask,”How many times have you paid late in past year” they all put 0. They live in an apartment building with an office they can walk to to pay rent, this is a single family home where we give 5 options to pay, none of which as easy as walking to an on-site office. What a waste of time on everyone’s part and money on their part. I agree with Deanna, it is a ton of work!! And it’s amazing how many say they are moving “because the landlords selling the house”. They don’t know that we know that that’s often what a landlord tells a bad tenant when they chose not to renew them!
    Aaron Abraham investor from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    I can totally relate… I was vetting potential renters who were moving from Wyoming to MN. The previous landlord reference that they gave me was in Colorado; first red flag. Called the guy and he gave me a very positive, upbeat reference of his former renters…”They are the ideal renters. I hate to lose them…” so on and so forth; second red flag. The renters had some bad marks on their credit that they didn’t make an excuse for just said they regretted it and were going through life changes at that time. So I was thinking that this former landlord was a farce. I looked up the tax records for their former residence; got the LLC that it was under, and looked up the LLC with the state. Found the Acting/Listed agent for the LLC. Looked him up, found other businesses and properties he owns. That took some time, a lot of time, but vetting a reference is important. The happy ending, with that positive (verified) reference and a co-signer the renters got the place. It’s been two years now and no problems. (crossing fingers & knocking on wood)
    John Barnette investor from San Francisco, California
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Yah have had a false landlord reference as well. Was able to look up property tax records and found a different name. Googled the name on tax records and got a phone number. True landlord verified that they were indeed the tenants at that property…and that they were horrible, late, adversary, etc. Next!
    Wenda Kennedy JD from Nikiski, Alaska
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    A couple years ago, I rented to disabled, little old lady, on a walker, and her dog. She was on S.S.I.. I have low to moderate income housing, so most of my tenants aren’t the perfect prospects. She had a fraud conviction that I pulled up. But, she told me that she had used someone else’s debit card by mistake. How bad can a little old lady be? I adjusted her rent a little bit so she could afford it on her S.S.I., and she moved in. I didn’t know that the law had gotten her on fraud charge rather than the whole truth — she was a major dope pin. She was into the heron trade, selling prescription pills and running with an violent O.G. bikers club — who were cooking drugs at another house in the neighborhood. She used my property for their flop house. She was our neighborhood Al Capone. Yes, I had to quickly evict her. She played her poor little old lady act for the judge. It didn’t work. Happily she and her dog have moved on. Talk about false appearances!
    Jerry W. investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Probably the most important experience I have gained is knowing when to not rent to someone. Since renting in cold weather is hard I have a lot of units come empty all at once in the summer months. it is really hard to turn down an applicant who has all their money in hand when you have 4 or 5 houses open, but better to leave them empty for a few months than have a renter who doesn’t pay, trashes the property, and makes you go back through renting it again anyway.
    Barry O. investor from Imperial Beach, California
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Great Post as always. Never thought to pull tax records for actual property owner for renters! It is always that little extra effort at the end that pays the most!
    AB
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    The landlord may want these people of his back and will give a great reference , so that also happens
    Jason Barnett flipper_rehabber from Memphis TN
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Good lesson and it was given in an entertaining way! Thanks!
    Joshua Allen from Belvidere, Illinois
    Replied over 1 year ago
    We had a tenant that had great references. They even had a great employment reference which qualified them. Turns out the aunt worked there and was the person we were talking to. The girl was not employed. We received 2 months rent (one coming from the Salvation Army), and then started the excuses. Luckily they left 3 months in without litigation. The aunt is also no longer employed after we called the company she worked for. I’m sure it was a butt-puckering moment for them.
    Alexandra Hightower
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I always ask for the last two landlords andnever call the current landlord. If the tenant is bad the current landlord will vouch for them to get them out of the property but the previous one (assuming he/she was the actual landlord) generally has no problem telling you the truth. Had never thought of verifying the landlord through tax records, but I will do that from now on!
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Pulling those tax records have saved me often. Thank you for your comment, Alexandria.
    Jimmy Sellards from Long Beach, California
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I was in court evicting a tenant and had to wait for the lady in front of me to plead her case to the Judge. I was anxious to get it over with since I had a meeting time set to meet with new prospective tenant. After my case was heard (and approved). I hurriedly drove to meet the new prospective tenant for a walk thru. I had already vetted this person and nothing showed up on her record. The prospective tenant was the same lady that was pleading her case in front of me, since her case was in court on that day it did not show up on her background check. Dodged a bullet on that one.
    Sterling White rental_property_investor from Indianapolis, IN
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Small world! Definitely dodged a bullet on that one, Jimmy.
    Brian Garlington rental_property_investor from San Francisco Bay Area
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I almost got caught up in something like this recently. Prospective tenants showed great pay stubs, said they were familiar with the Cleveland Area….loved the house, etc. Asked if there were any evictions from the last 10 years, they said not at all. They also played the slightly aggressive role in asking ME my first and last name because they wanted to do a public records search to see if I was the actual owner since, they had dealt with scams before. I told them since it’s public information, then I asked to see her LinkedIn Profile and Facebook Page…..everything looked good. They filled out the application and told me they had the deposit money and first month’s rent on them and wanted to know if I would consider taking $25.00 off the rent each month and that they would cut the grass. WRONG MOVE! In Cleveland, if you are renting an SFR you as the tenant are already responsible for the lawn so if they were “familiar with the area and were “coming back home as they say”, then they would know this. They also handed over the deposit money with the application. My PM told them to “hold the money” because he needed to check something on the computer. Based on the info they provided on the application, you guessed it…..they had one eviction from 7 years ago, and one eviction from 6 years ago, and the voicemail of phone number they listed for their current landlord did not have a name, it simply had “A voicemail that wasn’t set up yet”. I told my PM to tell them “ABSOLUTELY under no conditions would we ever rent to them.” They politely and in a very professional business manner Thanked us for our time and they left…..never even asked why. Something tells me their “act” has worked several times before and it will work again.
    John Teachout rental_property_investor from Concord, GA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Google is your friend for screening tenants. I will typically do a fair amount of web surfing before submitting them to the screening company. It can verify phone numbers, show brushes with the law, and a whole myriad of other useful tidbits of information. Finding a good tenant (or identifying a bad one) is not just a particular thing but the sum of the whole. Bits of info here and there can flesh out a more clear picture. And as stated above, an empty unit is lots better than one occupied by a nightmare.
    Wade G. from Houston, Texas
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Had a professional dressed, well spoken, female prospect look at one of my houses one time. She was very polite and friendly. She had a good job in the HR department at a local county office. Criminal report showed she had been arrested multiple times for theft. Of course she had a long story about how she had changed her life and was just looking for a chance. Sorry, I dont give chances. Have had more than one prospective tenant refer to their church activities continually, overuse the phrases “yes sir” and “God bless you”. None have ever passed the background checks usually due to criminal offenses.
    Raymond Pepitone investor from Staten Island, New York
    Replied over 1 year ago
    “great” reminders for all of us not to get complaceant
    Brendan LoCicero
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I just got a family out after a I refused to renew a year lease. I never got stiffed but I could count on one hand the number of times they paid on time. Always an excuse. Generally paid in a number of installments over the course of the month. This guy was a white collar felon which he did disclose. A very smooth talker. I found out late that they had burnt their previous landlord for 4 months rent. My mistake was not actually talking to them. I actually did try but got no answer. Instead I accepted a letter from her stating they were stellar tenants. She actually called me well into the lease trying to find out where they were located along with contact information so she could sue them. I asked about the letter she had written. She stated that they told her if she wrote it, they’d pay her the rent in which they were behind. I thanked her for nothing and told her I wouldn’t supply her with any information. After I told him I wasn’t renewing his lease he came up with several thousand dollars and said he wanted to repair the relationship. He was basically offering to pay a few months up front. He gay me some baloney about how he figured if he pay late fees he didn’t think it was a big deal. Nonsense. I told him in December if he kept it up I wouldn’t renew the lease. Oddly enough they left on time and the house was in decent shape. I figure I can get it ready in a few days. I will never make that mistake again. I count it as getting off the hook easy on what could have been a very expensive lesson. No more Mr. Nice Guy.