Tenant applicants are getting smarter

16 Replies

So I had someone apply the other day, middle aged couple with 3 kids. Seemed very nice and professional. I am running their background and everything looks good so far. Employment is solid, previous landlord checks out.

Then I get to the current landlord. First thing I do is look up the address on the county assessor website. I see that this person owns 4 rentals spread over 3 cities. This is how the conversation went:

Me: Hi do you have any houses available to rent?

Her: Not at the moment; there is possibly one coming up. Are you interested in the one in City A, City B, or City C? (doesn't skip a beat)

Me: Well actually I was trying to do a tenant reference check, blah blah blah.

Her: Oh, they're the best tenants in the world (sarcasm, but she gave a good review)

I later ran their background and found out that the current LL filed for eviction this month, so I called the real LL and got quite a different story. In this case it was pretty easy, but had they not filed for eviction I think I would have ended up renting to these people. Kind of a scary thought. These applicants are really getting smart with coordinating things with their friends. Any tips/comments?

Originally posted by @Bryce Y. :

Any tips/comments?

It's only a matter of time before someone starts offering a service of offering good references for tenants. Unfortunately, while highly unethical, I don't imagine it's illegal on the reference-givers side...

My best suggestion is exactly what you did -- assume everything you're hearing is a lie and do more due diligence than just a landlord check. Oh, and put on the application something along the lines of, "If, after renting, it's determined that the applicant knowingly lied on this application, the landlord gets to keep the entire security deposit" or something like that. Not sure if it's legal, but perhaps it will serve as a reasonable deterrent.

Originally posted by @J Scott:
Originally posted by @Bryce Y.:
Any tips/comments?

It's only a matter of time before someone starts offering a service of offering good references for tenants. Unfortunately, while highly unethical, I don't imagine it's illegal on the reference-givers side...

Yeah that's a real scary thought. I was thinking about asking for a copy of their current lease. They'd have to go to pretty great lengths to forge that, although I wouldn't put it past some applicants.

Those services already exist. Employment references, too.

When I do a check on a tenant's landlord, I don't pretend I'm interested in anything other than identifying how they know the tenant. Instead of asking the "landlord" if they have anything for rent or if they're even the landlord, I tell the person I'm calling about Tenants Joe and Jill, and how do you know them? If it's the tenant's friend, they may not be sure how to answer - are they playing the current landlord, the previous landlord, the employer?

If they say they're the landlord, I ask them if they own the rental property. If their answer doesn't match the tax records, I ask for an explanation. At that point, the conversation either falls apart or I get a real answer from the real landlord. I've never had a real landlord give a good reference for a tenant they were trying to get rid of; I've had landlords give me helpful warnings.

I cross reference phone numbers given by applicants with other data that is available on line. If the phone numbers don't match up, it is a red flag. Taking the time to "drill down" further always pays off. It did in your case!

Just had an applicant that seemed good, until I checked their photo ID. Noticed their driver's license had expired and the address on it did not match any of the addresses on the application. I started questioning, is your license suspended? Are you driving without a valid driver's license? Oh, your car is registered out of state, why is that? Turns out the person had a DUI, suspended license, temporary driving permit to be used only with a vehicle with a breath test ignition device, car is licensed under wife's name, most of the previous rental agreements under wife's name. Answered "no" to the question about criminal convictions on the application. Applicant says DUI is not a criminal offense. Application denied.

there are different ways to "interview" the landlord.. you can ask if they had washer and drier and match it with what they said. you can also ask how long they have been there, or just things that friends and "companies" wont know. there are tons of "trip" questions.

Originally posted by @George P. :
there are different ways to "interview" the landlord.. you can ask if they had washer and drier and match it with what they said. you can also ask how long they have been there, or just things that friends and "companies" wont know. there are tons of "trip" questions.

What are some of your trip questions?

Aly NA Good points, but I'm not sure if it would have helped in my situation. These applicants obviously went to great lengths to coordinate things with their friend. They listed the real owner on the application, but used their friend's phone number. I'm just trying to see thru this in the future. I also suspect the other LL reference was a friend, but I had no way of proving this since they didn't file for eviction.

@Marcia Maynard How exactly do you cross reference the phone number? Usually when I google a phone number I don't get anything conclusive. Are their other ways to track numbers?

Appreciate the feedback!

Edit: I also make sure I call from a different phone number than the one the applicants know.

I had 3 tenants come through a place, early 20's. income seemed solid and the second they left the place I called the previous landlord and simply said I was calling about "x". His mom was the phone number not the address just up the street. I then researched the real address they gave me and found the owner. He said they have been there 4 months and do nothing but party and smoke in his place. They also just got a baby pitbul and it is pissing all over the place.

He was very happy I called and said to stay away from them.

Denied.

Edit: I also make sure I call from a different phone number than the one the applicants know.

This is a good one!

@Bryce Y. I cross reference phone numbers and other information by checking property records and business listings.

I look at the applicant's residences for the most recent 5 years (minimum). I look for the property owner's name and their contact information in any way I can, but I start with the county website for property records. The applicant's credit report and legal background check will sometimes reveal an address that they decided not to list with their application. Those can be quite revealing!

For income/employment verification I will check the legitimacy of the income source and look up the contact information for agencies and business through websites and/or the state department of revenue. I check to see if the contact information matches what is on the application. I will call the publicly listed numbers to confirm and will find the right person to talk to. In addition, I will also verify the income amount by looking at pay stubs, tax returns, and award letters.

I never assume that the landlord phone number is accurate. I always look it up myself.

some good tips Aly NA

@Richard C. care to expand? do you have the company names or websites?

Originally posted by @J Scott:
Originally posted by @Bryce Y. :
Any tips/comments?

It's only a matter of time before someone starts offering a service of offering good references for tenants. Unfortunately, while highly unethical, I don't imagine it's illegal on the reference-givers side...

They've been doing it for years already.

CareerExcuse.com

Originally posted by @James Wise :
@Richard C. care to expand? do you have the company names or websites?

http://thereferencestore.com/fake_employment_reference_service2_031.htm

Now, the good news is people are unlikely to go to this effort and expense just to be a bad tenant. They are people trying to get past their issues. So many may be great tenants. But yeah, this is out there.

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