How to screen tenants coming from outside the United States?

24 Replies

Careful! This sounds like a rather pervasive scam. The "tenant" writes a check for too much money for whatever reason they can concoct and gets you to deposit it into your account and send the overage back. Then you find that their original check bounced. The bank holds you responsible for the refund which came off your account and has disappeared.

@Jeff Rabinowitz

What from the original post makes you think its a scam? As someone who immigrated to the US myself from the UK I know how difficult it can be to find housing etc without US credit history etc. Its even harder when people assume you are a scammer because you are foreign born.

@Peter Fokas The one thing going for you in this situation is that you speak the same language meaning you can check/call references etc. Also find out why they are coming to the US. Is it a company transfer? If so you could contact their company for a reference also.

@Jeff Rabinowitz

Sometimes you are even more cynical than I ;-)

@Peter Fokas

We screen tenants who are outside the United States all the time ... but, then again, we are in Canada.  ;-)

More pertinent to the discussion, we have student rentals and frequently screen tenants from the U.S.A., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  In many instances, you will not be able to run a credit history (although we can do this for U.S.A. and some European candidates) or criminal background check (it will either be impossible due to privacy laws or politics or impractical due to cost).   

Quite frequently our international student candidates are just looking to rent a furnished room (month to month, or week to week) and, in those instances, we are a little looser on our screening as we can ask them to leave at the first sign of trouble.    When they are looking to rent an apartment or house, we require proof of sufficient finances to carry the lease on deposit in a Canadian bank account before they are given keys to move in. We will also rent to them solely on a month-to-month basis or term lease until they have established a track record with us.

@Stephen Nicholson , I don't know it is a scam but if the scenario I laid out with the over funding and asking for a refund is present it most certainly is. I have had this scenario proposed to me several times. (There just cannot possibly be that many people from Europe who love my houses so much that they are willing to rent them without seeing them and before they arrive in this Country.) Many landlords have been burned by variations of this scheme.

Find out if the borrower has a work visa such as an L-1 or H-1b, or E-2, which gives them a legal right to work here and live here, usually for renewable 5 year terms.  If they are on the level, they will be among the best tenants you will ever find, as many of them hope to someday attain green card status (some do not, of course).  They will do EVERYTHING properly.  Ask to see the copy of the work visa, and make a copy, if you can.  If they only have a B-1/B-2 visa, you have a problem as they can only be in the U.S. as a visitor or tourist for 3 months, and then have to fly back out to country of origin.  If a student, then they will have an F-1 visa or J-1 visa, you may have to decide how to handle the rent for summer vacations.

Florida has some of the highest percentages of work visa holders in the country, on par with geologists and workers in the oil sector in Houston, researchers, academics, and hi-tech workers in California & Redmond, Washington (Microsoft).   In New Jersey, a lot will work in NYC in financial services or in the medical field.  If you think you are being played, ask for a cashier's check and do not let the individual move into until the cashier's check has cleared.  Florida has a lot of problems with fraudulent cashier's checks as well, so cashier's check has to clear.  Either wait or ask for first, last, and security wired in.  A lot of these folks have money and no intention to be a perpetual renter, so they will pay on time and may move out after 24-36 months.

The scam thing is totally true. I advertise on a site used by international students and twice got the same email on an apartment several months apart where the guy claimed to be a professor and wire me "extra" money and then I can just send it back later, etc. 

However, with the international folks, you can either take a bigger deposit as well. I've never had an issue renting to students outside the country in the last 2.5 years i've been doing this. You do have to educate them on getting a Utility account, Cable, etc. but they have been amazing and hassle-free for me and would love to get more.

@Stephen Nicholson 

B-1 is 3 months, B-2 is 6 months, my bad.  Extensions may be granted just as you said.  If someone is B-/B-2 I would NOT rent to them cause who knows if they get the extension. 

Making the point that a lot of these work visa guys are trustworthy and I would certainly rent to THEM.

And here is how to do due diligence if you want a trustworthy tenant who will pay top dollar......

Ask about the visa status, ask who the employer is, many of them have official employment contracts with big U.S. corporations, so ask for a copy of the contractual offer of employment.  The annual salary will be on the letter.  If they are from the UK, they can get a copy of their Equifax credit report for $20 and provide it to the landlord.  A true international credit report can be ordered by the landlord for $150-$250.  Call references. Ask for cashier's check and wait a week for it to clear.  If too much trouble, wait for the next renter.

I have seen this scam but a little different. They send you a large sum "accidently" then ask you return the extra. The money will be in your account even because its an e transfer, trick is your account gets frozen after a couple days and you lose the money. These scammers are e transfering OPM and getting you to collect for them, almost had it happen to me. I just had the sense to notice the incoming money was from an account in a different country and name.

The second tenants we placed in a unit were from outside the US. They lived in Saipan, a tropical island in the Marianas in the western Pacific Ocean.  He was a real estate broker there, and they owned their own home, which they were currently renting out.  She was in the last months of her first pregnancy. Medical care is poor in Saipan, so they came to the US to have the baby. He got a job he could do on-line and worked from the public library each day; they would attend auctions to buy furniture on the weekends.

It took a bit of faith on our part; their application was impossible to verify. In hindsight I probably wouldn't rent to them, or at least would require more rent and a higher deposit. I they don't understand that you have more risk and they have less housing options,  let them keep looking.  They were great, except she was a little fussy, and they didn’t stay long- less than a month in fact! Her pregnancy was high risk and they needed to move closer to a larger hospital. 

S.O.P.  Standard Operating Procedures;  use your normal application and screening process

  • blanks on the application:- disqualified, insufficient information
  • missing or illegible DOB, SSN ->DQ
  • no prior address, no current employer -> DQ
  • can't document an income ->DQ even if offering all cash for first year

You don't need to ask for green card status as the missing SSN says there's none.

I have no idea about screening non-US residents, but can certainly appreciate the challenges they face.

One thing I noticed while living in Europe : wiring money to someon's bank account is a VERY common way to do business.  I've registered for conferences, bought merchandise, and even had a salaried position where that was the ONLY way of paying/being paid.  

The scam is so common, that craigslist writes a warning about it, when you post an ad for a rental. 

It doesn't make any sense to me, that someone would rent a house from another country, if they are being transferred. I believe that any company that arranges for a transfer and pays for all the immigration cost and the move, will also pay for a week or month of furnished housing. So, there's no reason to look for someone to rent long distance. 

That's how it worked for me, when I came to this country, as well as any other corporate transfer I've ever spoken to. The company sponsors them and thus is liable for them. 

At the very least, there should not be any problem for them to give you the local company information, so that you can check with them.

Originally posted by NA Beard:

S.O.P.  Standard Operating Procedures;  use your normal application and screening process

  • blanks on the application:- disqualified, insufficient information
  • missing or illegible DOB, SSN ->DQ
  • no prior address, no current employer -> DQ
  • can't document an income ->DQ even if offering all cash for first year

You don't need to ask for green card status as the missing SSN says there's none.

I worked off an on the U.S.A. for several years as a professional under NAFTA and, as a Canadian, have never had a green card nor an SSN (neither are required).   There are many Canadians in the U.S.A., and U.S.A. citizens in Canada, under NAFTA provisions, most of whom are making very good money and would be strong candidates for tenancy.

Originally posted by @Roy N. :
Originally posted by @J Beard:

S.O.P.  Standard Operating Procedures;  use your normal application and screening process

  • blanks on the application:- disqualified, insufficient information
  • missing or illegible DOB, SSN ->DQ
  • no prior address, no current employer -> DQ
  • can't document an income ->DQ even if offering all cash for first year

You don't need to ask for green card status as the missing SSN says there's none.

I worked off an on the U.S.A. for several years as a professional under NAFTA and, as a Canadian, have never had a green card nor an SSN (neither are required).   There are many Canadians in the U.S.A., and U.S.A. citizens in Canada, under NAFTA provisions, most of whom are making very good money and would be strong candidates for tenancy.

 But UK is not under NAFTA and does require a visa. And if you come on a work visa, you do get a ss number.

Originally posted by @Michaela G. :

 But UK is not under NAFTA and does require a visa. And if you come on a work visa, you do get a ss number.

Michaela:

I guess it depend on the VISA, I was on a TN and was not an employee of an U.S.A. company, so no SSN.   That said, I expect you could check the credit {score at lease} of a Canadian though one of the credit bureaus which operate in ether country using their SIN number.  I know we can run credit cheques on U.S.A. citizens using their SSN.

@Roy N. , but you came under NAFTA, which includes Canada and Mexico. European countries are very different. I came from Germany. You can't work in the U.S. without the proper visa, unless you're undocumented and work under the table. 

But you still need a visa to visit here. 

Originally posted by @Michaela G. :

@Roy N. , but you came under NAFTA, which includes Canada and Mexico. European countries are very different. I came from Germany. You can't work in the U.S. without the proper visa, unless you're undocumented and work under the table. 

But you still need a visa to visit here. 

 Michaela,

I get that, it was similar for me when I worked in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany ... things got a little simpler after the EU ... and, theoretically, they will become even simpler under CETA if it is ever ratified.

@Roy N. it's my investment and my rules - - if a tenant can't be validated nor income verified, I'm not interested.  That's applied uniformly so it's not discrimination and btw, I don't loose, I'm protected.

Originally posted by NA Beard it's my investment and my rules - - if a tenant can't be validated nor income verified, I'm not interested.  That's applied uniformly so it's not discrimination and btw, I don't loose, I'm protected.

Absolutely and I completely appreciate that.  Sometime we bump into new scenarios/opportunities in our business and encounter a tenant who can be validate, but perhaps in a manner a little different than we are accustomed. 

J Beard you don't need a green card for a SSN. Many other types of visas also qualify for a SSN.

You need to be a legal resident (green card, H1, L1, etc) for a mortgage.

As someone who has lived on 3 continents, I would take a copy of their passport and visa, get employer references and take first month, last month and security deposit.

If you are worried about a visit from ICE, consult an immigration lawyer regarding their legal status.