Background Check Returns Positive but Tenants claims it is not them

23 Replies

Hey guys,

the background check that I ran on one applicant that I have returned with 2 housing claims in one year. As I confronted the applicant with these claims, she was surprised and claimed that it must be someone else with the same name because she's never been to these 2 towns. She provided me with the list of addresses that she lived in , in the past 4 years with the landlord numbers to call. Is there anyway to verify that it is not her?  I am thinking about asking her to get a letter from the housing court proving that these claims are not against her but someone else with a different name. Is that possible?

If you pulled up this data on her and the data is on someone else and not her, she needs to CALL THEM and straighten it out because it's going to follow her for the rest of her life.

Why would she, right out of the blue, have a list of previous addresses, and landlord numbers all ready and waiting for you if she was so shocked to find out there is someone else out there with her name having bad reports. 

I don't like it.  Smells bad to me.  Next Please.

One other thought.  Past 4 years (many landlords) hmmm  why?  She sounds like she's running and is a player.   Move on. 

Nancy Neville

If you do thorough tenant screening you will see cross references. There is always the possibility of mistaken identity. Before tasking the applicant with clearing "their" record, I would do more myself. The background check needs to include rental/housing history, employment/income history, credit history, legal history. Calling personal references can also be helpful, as you can ferret out additional information. 

Put together the whole picture. If there are discrepancies, then talk with the applicant about them. If there are indeed mistakes in the court record, credit report or other records, then the tenant will need to see those get corrected as soon as possible. Also, make sure the companies doing your background checks are not the source of the problem.

It's not surprising the applicant would be able to provide you with a list of previous addresses and landlord contact information. During the housing search, a prudent applicant will have those at the ready. In our tenant screening we require an applicant to provide us with their residence addresses for the most recent five years. We call previous landlords, but we verify the phone number of the landlord and the residence location by cross referencing public information. When we run the credit report, it will show previous addresses and alias names; the addresses will either match up or they won't.

QUOTE:  

"She provided me with the list of addresses that she lived in , in the past 4 years with the landlord numbers to call."

Not a stable individual.  "Landlord Numbers"  this means more than one landlord in 4 years.  

Nancy Neville

This has happened to me. The first time, the applicant swore it wasn't her in the county court record for an eviction, and I told her I'd need an affidavit or some kind of documentation from the court that it was a mistake. Her last name was off by one letter between her driver's license and the court case. She brought me the documentation and paid an extra month's rent up front. I thought we covered our bases, but we had to evict her 10 months later.

A recent applicant's background check showed an address in another city from a few years ago that she hadn't put on her application. She said she had never lived there, and her employer verified her local employment during that time. She owned a house for the last 17 years before a foreclosure. The background check company agreed it could be a mistake, or someone else with the same name, and requested a letter and driver's license from the tenant to clear up the discrepancy on their end. She provided it. So far, so good.

As @Marcia Maynard said, look at the big picture and don't hesitate to ask the tenant to do some legwork on their own behalf. I doubt a tenant would even think to check the court records to see what their name might bring up. Most people don't even know what's on their credit report.

QUOTE:  

"She provided me with the list of addresses that she lived in , in the past 4 years with the landlord numbers to call."

Not a stable individual.  "Landlord Numbers"  this means more than one

They know what's on their credit report if they have been turned down several times.

Nancy Neville

@Georges Arnaout , my application asks why a tenant is moving. If you speak to the landlords, after verifying they are indeed the actual landlords/property owners, you might get valuable info. 

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@Georges Arnaout

Did they do an address search based off of the SSN?

Is the name a common name?

How was the search for judgments done? While I appreciate @Nancy Neville point out the obvious: there can be  false positives on these searches. You need to do a little bit more digging if you don't have a wide applicant pool. If you have a number of applicants and the rest are clean, that makes your course of action easier.

The gold standard would be to search these databases by SSN; unfortunately, most of the states and counties have gotten rid of SSNs in their court records, so you can't search by them anymore. Most companies will just do a name search and spit back everything they get. 

Unfortunately most Landlords have a lot of blind trust in their screening and don't know exactly how and where companies get their data from. I would call up whomever you used for the search and ask them:
  • How do they run their search - is it cross matched against address history and known locations of the tenant? Do they search by SSN or name? 
  • Where do they get their data from and how frequently is it updated?

Good luck!

RUSH TO JUDGMENT:

This topic is important to talk about, because a "Rush to Judgment" answer is a bad thing.  However, there is a difference between a "Rush in Judgment" and years of experience hearing the same sob story over and over again.

A "Rush to Judgment" would be someone who see's an applicant get out of the car, who  look like bums and so you assume they won't qualify for your rental. 

But declining an applicant who applied for your rental and you received a credit report stating they had bad credit, is based on facts that you actually paid money to receive about this tenant.  Up until those facts are proven to be not true, they are indeed facts that were presented to you from a legitimate credit reporting service.  So to not believe the applicants when they say it isn't them, is not a "rush to judgment".  Your decision was based on facts until proven otherwise.

Not to defend myself, but just to clarify the information I give to BP readers, my answers are never based on emotions, or lack of evidence.  My answers are based strictly on years of experience and "Facts".  

With 40 rental units ranging from apartments to multi-families and single family homes, you can image the turn over that I have had over 13 years of being a Landlord.  Thus you can image all the stories and credit checks I must have done. 

In the beginning, I too felt the need to investigate a "that's not me!" scenario when I ran a credit report and the applicant swore it wasn't them.  Wasted a lot of time on giving them the benefit of the doubt, because they seemed like good people.  But 9 times out of 10, it truly was them.  

Then I began to think to myself, am I so desperate that I HAVE TO PLAY "COLUMBO".  Am I so desperate for a tenant that I have to take time out of my busy day to prove to myself they are not the people on the credit report?   Why do I have to do that, when this is their problem! 

If it isn't them, then they have a problem, because I'm not the only one that will pull up a credit report on them and find bad credit.  So they need to straighten this out NOW!  But in the mean time, I'm talking to the next qualified applicant in line.  

You see, time is of the essence when getting your places rented.  It's not up to us to prove they are legit.  They have to prove it to us.  But we feel so desperate to get a tenant that we will go to no length to help prove that they aren't that person, when in the long run, they are, and if not, they better take care of it now.

So, to the point of this post.  I never rush to Judgment on anything.  As I said in above posts, it seems like they have been rejected by other landlords prior to viewing your property and are prepared with a "It's not me" answer. 

Perhaps I'm wrong about them.  But why should YOU go to the trouble to resolve this issue, when clearly they have an issue on the credit report, that needs to be resolved by them.  It can't be resolved by you.   

Nancy Neville

It's possible that these are false matches, and it is also true that you cannot fix the records that lead to the false match if indeed they are false matches. But that does not mean you have to accept the data from the screening source blindly; there are some ways you can use to confirm that these are not false matches if you are inclined to do some research:

http://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/1750...

http://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/52/topics/6102...

BTW - MA has the records online for this type of searching at no charge to you, for evictions at least. 

BTW - did you get a full credit report on this applicant or just a score? If you got a full report, it should have a section with an address history of places where they lived when they applied for credit. You can use that also to correlate eviction addresses. 

We haven't heard from  the OP yet, but I assumed he asked for the past landlord's names and numbers. It could have been in the application packet and "she gave me the information"! 

Why not call the past landlords and verify? If any case was during that period of time, obviously it wasn't her.

Agreed, she needs to get that corrected herself....like an identity theft thing, it wasn't her. 

I believe credit reports with SSNs, not independent BI types. If it shows she was 1,000 miles away at another address or banking somewhere else during that period I'd tend to believe she can't be in two places at once. 

However, strange things happen, her x boyfriend may have had ID, put her down as a co-tenant, the landlord didn't meet her, he bailed, she could have been named and she'd never know it! Who knows? 

How important is that issue judging from her credit, landlord verifications, does the job check out? Think compensating factors with derogatory information obtained, the source of it, weigh the validity of the matter. :)

Originally posted by @Georges Arnaout :

Hey guys,

the background check that I ran on one applicant that I have returned with 2 housing claims in one year. As I confronted the applicant with these claims, she was surprised and claimed that it must be someone else with the same name because she's never been to these 2 towns. She provided me with the list of addresses that she lived in , in the past 4 years with the landlord numbers to call. Is there anyway to verify that it is not her?  I am thinking about asking her to get a letter from the housing court proving that these claims are not against her but someone else with a different name. Is that possible?

Guess we may need a little more information. When you say "background check", do you mean the legal/criminal history report, the credit report, or both? I took it to mean the local court record showed a problem with previous housing, not with credit. When you say "housing claims", do you mean evictions or monetary judgements for money due to a previous landlord, or something else? 

We don't have "housing courts" in our area, so I took a moment to look up what that was in Massachusetts and found this: 

"The Massachusetts housing courts were established to handle cases involving residential housing. In addition to summary process (eviction) cases, the courts’ jurisdiction includes small claims cases, consumer protection cases, and civil actions involving the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing, including cases with personal injury, property damage, breach of contract, and discrimination claims."

So, I guess we need some clarification as to what the claims were about. If there was mistaken identity and it is easy enough for the tenant to clear up any misunderstanding at the housing court, then it would be reasonable to ask her to do that. What did her credit report show? What did you find out when you called previous landlords, such as the claimants on record with the court?

I can understand the point @Nancy Neville makes. It is common for those with bad legal history to claim it is not them, until proven otherwise. It is a waste of our time to chase it down. If the whole picture looked bad, I'd move on to the next applicant. However, if I had  done a thorough background check (housing, income, credit, legal) and it were only one item in question and it did not match up with the other background information I had collected, then I would question the validity of the outlier report. 

If the housing court record is pulled by name only, I would not assume the identity is the same. I would trust, but verify. However, if the housing court record is pulled by name, date of birth, and/or social security number, then I would have more faith in it and ask the tenant to get that letter. If she is indeed the same person as the court record shows, she probably won't get back to you, or will withdraw her application and move-on. So asking the applicant to get that letter from the housing court may indeed be a good next step. Note her reaction when you ask her to do that, as it may be quite telling.

@Nancy Neville

I actually agree with you on most parts. If you have 10 applicants and 1 meets your criteria better then others, you're going to take that 1. My concern here was more for the owner and prospective tenant. 

For the owner: Why is there not a clear address history report showing all of the known addresses of the tenant? That makes it a lot easier to figure out what's going on. 

What makes it even more frustrating is that I see/hear about this all the time. Meaning a landlord/prop manager using a service, and not knowing where the data is coming from or what it means. I have spoken to property managers who have lost thousands for want of  a simple AKA search.

Also, if someone is that invested in a tenant's report, perhaps they're in a less in demand market, and they want to be sure they reject a tenant.

For the prospective tenant: their life is getting screwed over because of a less then thorough company. Not everyone takes what they do seriously, or realizes the impact they have on peoples lives.

It is the burden of the applicant to provide evidence to clear this up. It is not your burden to investigate further, unless you choose to make it your burden.

Late to the post but I honestly can't believe so many of you would go out of your way to prove the report incorrect.... unless its a very difficult rental market I would have moved on 2.3 seconds after I reviewed the report. A small amount of cross reference and "taking in the big picture" is part of the job but, no way no how am I spending 1 second researching the information if I have any other people interested in my rental... 

In fact based on the phone interview, application data and reference checks you should have a firm grasp on who this person is, the credit report is a factor in my decision and is utilized to validate a lot of the information already provided; if it doesn't match or is incorrect; See ya!  

And the statement "That is not me" is a (Warning flag, Red Card, Strike 3, 15 yard penalty, 15 minute major, Technical Foul, pick a sport reference you like.... Double fault.... 2 stroke penalty...  etc...) that I do not take lightly in fact it holds a lot of weight... They have until I find another suitable renter to prove it incorrect....., most of the time you'll never see them again.. 

I should state; past rental; I recently sold my 2 family.... 

This happened to me. Very lovely woman with nice children-I liked her & wanted to rent to her. THEN, the credit background check came back--Evictions, bankruptcies, lawsuits --she swore it was her Sister who" STOLE her identity". she was a professional scammer, --they know the game and play it very well--

Latest update:  It turned out that it was not her. The way I proved it (1) her name was spelled differently (comparing id to the name on the housing site - her name is a VERY common name).  Also, she provided with her rental history for the last 5 years proving that she was not the person involved with the incident. All references cleared up (credit score, landlords, employers, etc. )

I know I could have moved on to the next applicant but I like giving ppl the benefit of the doubt and in her case, I think I did the right choice. 

@Marcia Maynard you're absolutely right. The housing check was done only on the name.

Georges, I am glad that it worked out well.

Can I ask which background service you folks recommend?

So how long did your home stay vacant while you were trying to prove it wasn't her?  

Does she look offended and seem to be trying to clear the matter up herself?  Or did she seem not appalled or outraged that such a thing had happened to her?

At any rate, I'm glad it worked out for you, but I have to say, I'm still skeptical.

Nancy Neville

So...I need to clear this up in my head.

You posted your question on June 27th and updated it now July 18th.  

So did your property stay vacant for 21 days?  

That's almost a months rent you could have collected by moving on to the second applicant in line.  Perhaps you just posted now, and she became verified much earlier, but every day that property stays vacant you lose money.

I realize that I sound harsh.  But we must remember this is a business.  We can't just rent out our properties to just anyone, unless you can afford it.  And we can't afford to keep our properties off the market hoping that someone isn't that person that showed up on a credit report, after we spent money to verify that person that way.

Because we are landlords, the media and our neighbors will never see the kind deeds we do.  We will always be, to them, the dastardly landlord.  

You can be kind to people, but let's not be stupid. 

Okay I tell you some things.  I talk pretty tough and stick to rigid rules when I give advice on here, but there are many good deeds I have done, but it was when I had enough money to do so, and it depended on the tenant and how long they were with me.  But new applicants, never!  Or someone applying for my homes.  But to those that have proved themselves to me, and I had the money to do so, I did the following stuff for them.

  • I would give a months free rent to tenants that were with me for at least three years and paid their rent on time, when they were facing hard times, and never made them pay it back. 
  • My husband and I would see a bum on the street and stop and give them money.
  • My husband and I would see kids cleaning up the streets in Detroit and stop and give them money for a job well done.
  • We would buy the neighborhoods kids pop and candy
  • We let tenants out of their lease if they had just purchased a home, but they had to be with us at least 2 years or more. 
  • I've lowered rent for some of my tenants who were facing hard times.  Yea, LOWERED RENT!

You see there is times to be tough and times you can be soft, but YOU need to choose the time.  

Did you have enough money to hold this home vacant in order to verify this tenant?  If so, okay.  No problem.

But this person wasn't tested by you to give her such a break and your time.  Unless you were desperate and had nobody else applying for your home and then I probably would verify her too that much, if I had nobody else standing in line.   But if nobody was standing in line for you home, then you need to ask yourself why?  This is summer.  It is a good time.  People want a place for their kids just before school starts.  You should have people hounding you for your properties right now.  

I never have spoken or written of my good deeds until now.  But I just wanted you to know that even the people you think have the hardest of hearts, like myself, really do have a heart, but business comes first, and then when you can do something for someone do it.  But make the money first so you can do it for them when they need it.

Nancy Neville

@Nancy Neville  I use Buildium and it has its own credit check / background check tool. For more info like Housing Court etc. I use the city of boston website.

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