Ignore at Your Own Peril

In a previous post I wrote about the 4 critical steps you need to take when considering rental applicants. They are –

  1. Pre-screen your tenants by clearly communicating your residency standards
  2. Require complete applications, have each co-applicant complete their own individual application and collect an application fee
  3. Conduct a comprehensive background screening for every applicant and co-applicant 18 years or older that includes credit, criminal and eviction results
  4. Make sure the applicant’s ID is properly verified. Is the applicant who they say they are?

However, going through all the effort to properly screen an applicant is useless if you don’t pay attention to the results.

Here is a story from Tina who didn’t pay attentions to the screening report results.

“This new applicant was a nice guy and has a sweet dog, but I am never going to forgo the Tenant Magic approval again after what happened with my last tenant. I had her complete the application and go through the screening program, the recommendation was to refuse the applicant, and boy do I wish I had listened.  What a worthless nightmare she turned out to be.  Thanks for your help.  We’ll see what he does.”

This a great example of being able to learn a valuable lesson from the (easily avoidable) mistake of someone else.

“Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see”

Why customer service is so important from your tenant screening provider.

Even with the best tenant screening providers, there are times when the applicant can try to game the system and requires additional investigation.

Recently we were asked to take a look at the screening report of an applicant for a high end multi-unit rental property that we processed. We were told that something didn’t feel right about it.

The applicant’s credit report was returned as a Thin File, which meant that the applicant had no credit history. The applicant was 32 years old and having no credit history is unusual, but it’s not unheard of.

The Eviction Report showed 3 evictions over the past 5 years for a person with the same name as the applicant. Housing/Municipal courts do not use dates of birth or social security numbers when reporting evictions, so you do get false positives especially with someone with a common name.

At TenantMagic we compare known addresses reported by the credit bureau with the reported eviction address for the applicant. If there is a match, then we know it was the applicant that was evicted. However, in this case the applicant did not have a credit history, so we didn’t have any known addresses to cross reference.

The applicant made sure not to report his actual address on the application and used one of a relative, where he could have lived at some point.

The credit bureau did indicate that there was not enough historical information to make a firm recommendation on the applicant’s risk level. So now what do you do?

How do you determine if the applicant is qualified, even after completing a background screening?

The real estate agent for the owner called us with her concerns. The TenantMagic customer service team did a review and saw that the applicant did have some minor charges that showed up in the criminal report. We retrieved the court documents and took a deeper dive.

Criminal and traffic courts do report addresses and date of birth. In this case when we looked at the court reports, they discovered that the applicant lived at the address where the eviction was reported. We then confirmed this, as the date of birth matched with what was entered in the application.

Recent prior evictions are a major red flag for any landlord. A person who was evicted in the past is likely to be evicted again. The lengths this applicant went to hide previous addresses is cause for even greater alarm.

TenantMagic reported this to the agent and owner with the actual court reports, allowing the owner to quickly make a decision and move on to the next applicant. No time was wasted by the agent or owner. The decision was made to decline based on solid Fair Housing-compliant information.

Moral of this story. Even comprehensive background screening reports don’t tell the whole story and can require additional analysis. Agents and owners can spend the time themselves to do it and hope they get it right or they can use a full service application and background screening company to provide the information for them to make a qualified decision.