Tenant Screening Customer Service – The TenantMagic Advantage

Let your business stand out with superior customer service

 

In my previous post I wrote about how TenantMagic stands above its competitors by providing superior tenant screening customer service. Here is a link to a Forbes article http://bit.ly/2sTWAD1 that supports our strategy, that customer service is a great differentiator.

In this post I will give you a recent example.

TenantMagic’s tenant screening customer service is available 7 days a week. We know that our agents and landlords don’t work Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm and neither do we. We see much of our activity after 5pm and on weekends. One of our competitors brags about having their customer service available Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm. TenantMagic’s live phone customer service is available from 8:00 am to 9:00pm Monday through Friday and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

This past Saturday, I received a call from a woman in her 70’s who needed help to complete the online rental application and tenant screening for her and her husband.  Neither were what you would call computer savvy.

She called asking for assistance, as she was somewhat unsure about entering personal information into an online application. She asked if we could stay on the with her while she entered her information which we did not only for her, but for her husband too.

In less than a half hour both applications were completed and the agent received their applications and screening reports.  They were very thankful not only for the assistance, but that it was provided on a Saturday morning. The property they were applying to was in demand and they needed to get their application in as quickly as possible.

TenantMagic’s development team has worked with our customer service team to make the user experience as easy as possible. We see that we are successful more than 95% of the time based on the number of customer service calls we receive compared to the number of applications that are completed.

We often hear back from the agents and landlords of the 5% that needed the assistance, thanking us. They appreciate that their vacancy will be filled in a timely manner. This has resulted not only in repeat business but great referrals.

 

 

Are your rental applicants using fake pay stubs?

Are your applicants using fake pay stubs?
Fake pay stubs are easy to get

In a previous post, I discussed the ease of getting a fake credit report and why you should always run your own screening reports for rental applicants. Credit reports are not the only fake documents that are readily available online. Fake pay stubs are also easily available for under $10.00.

https://www.realcheckstubs.com and https://fakepaystubonline.com are just 2 of many services that can be used.

It only takes a few minutes to generate a fake pay stub and they can look very authentic. If the rent is $1200 per month and you require a 3-1 income to rent ratio, no problem. The applicant can simply generate pay stubs showing income of $3600 per month or more regardless of what they make.

Income is obviously one of the more important requirements when considering a tenant. Lack of sufficient income will typically result non-payment of rent and ultimately in an eviction.

Fortunately there are a number of steps you can take to verify an applicant’s pay stub information.

  • Take a close look at the deduction amounts. Calculate them to see if they make sense and are in-line with the state where they work. City and state tax rates are readily accessible on line.
  • Ask for bank statements that correspond with the dates of the paystubs to see that the money was actually deposited into their account.
  • Look at eviction and credit reports to see if there are any anomalies.

Some resources suggest contacting employers to verify the income. I do not recommend this, as many employers will not provide that information. Some larger corporations that do, will outsource the service to a third party which can charge up to $25. With the steps I outlined you should be able to get verified income without the significant time and effort required to contact the employer.

The best way to incorporate these steps into your application process is to use a online rental application and background screening program. An applicant completing a TenantMagic application give permission for the agent or owner to ask for information such as bank statements in addition to the credit, eviction and criminal information pulled from the bureaus.

TenantMagic www.tenantmagic.net comprehensive application and tenant screening at no cost to offers real estate agents, property managers and landlords. Applicants pay the fee.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic, LLC  www.tenantmagic.net

Technology-relevant lead generation for property managers and landlords

Use technology-relevant lead generation
Millennials hate voice mail

Technology-relevant lead generation is so important to effectively market your properties, especially to millennials.

Many owners and property managers I speak with are always looking for a reliable source for rental applicants.

A significant number of these applicants will likely be millennials. According to a cnbc article  http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/09/millennials-will-be-renting-for-a-lot-longer.html, over 60% of people in the 25 to 34 age group, are renting their residences.

In addition to listing on sites such as  Craigslist or Zillow, many owners or managers place a “For Rent” sign out with a phone number of the owner or property manager.

“For Rent” signs will typically attract potential applicants that have a greater interest,  as they are making the effort to check out the property and the neighborhood.

The problem with the “For Rent” signs is that the phone is the method of contact. This brings up a number of issues.

Potential applicants often look at properties during evenings and week-ends when rental offices are closed and owners are not always available. Many applicants, especially millennials,  are adverse to calling and even a larger number refuse to leave a message. If they do leave a message (which is unlikely)  and you call them back, don’t even think of leaving them a voice message.

Millennials hate voicemails. They don’t like leaving voicemails and will typically send a text message instead. They also often avoid listening to voicemails that have been left for them by others. Here is a great column giving a millennial’s perspective on voicemails.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bthesite/bs-b-0618-column-20150617-story.html

So, what is the best way to use “For Rent” signs? Use a text lead generation program for the signs. This is a good example of technology-relevant lead generation.

Full disclosure – TenantMagic has launched Rider Sign Leads www.ridersignleads.com. The program provides property managers and owners with a customizable code that can be placed on the “For Rent” sign riders, either in addition to or  replacing the phone number. When the prospective applicant texts the code to the number on the sign, they receive the rental details, owner/manager contact information and a link to the web listing of the property. The owner/manager receives the phone number of the prospect.

Technology is changing the way we shop, live and make decisions. It is imperative to make sure that your business can accommodate the tech tools that are being used by your target market.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic, LLC  www.tenantmagic.net

A credit report alone is not sufficient for screening a tenant

rental property trashed by bad tenants
But they had a good credit score.

I last wrote that you should never accept a credit report provided by the applicant due to easy online availability of fake credit reports.

In this post, I would like to explain why even a valid credit report is inadequate by itself when screening a rental applicant.

Credit reports do not contain enough information to properly evaluate an applicant.

The applicant’s income, in addition to eviction and criminal history are very important when considering a potential applicant and none of these are found in a credit report.

Typically the required income to rent ratio is 3 to 1. If the rent is $1000 per month, then the income for all the renters need to be at least $3000 per month.

I am often asked about verifying income. We recommend that the agent or owner ask for 3 consecutive pay stubs. You should request the 3 most recent bank statements to verify  the income deposits if the applicant is self-employed.

This method is far easier and quicker than attempting to get salary or wage information from the employer. Many large employers will direct you to a third party that requires a fee for income verification.

An eviction report is extremely important.  A person who was evicted in the past, is likely to be evicted again. It is very time consuming and costly to evict a teannt. Repairs to the property also need to be taken into account. Most evicted tenants don’t exactly leave the property “broom clean move-out” condition.

Don’t think a criminal report is important? Think again. I was speaking at a real estate investors group about tenant screening best practices.  An elderly landlord told me a very scary story. The tenants in one of his properties stopped paying rent and would not respond to his phone calls. He went to the house to ask about the rent, was beaten severely by one of the occupants and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks.

It was discovered after the tenant was arrested that he was a convicted felon.

A criminal background check would have identified his criminal history and saved the landlord from the pain and suffering of the beating.

Here are some more stories that will help convince you about the importance of tenant screening. http://buildrealty.net/blog/2014/12/21/6-insane-landlording-stories-that-prove-the-importance-of-tenant-screening/

No tenant screening process will be 100% effective. But a comprehensive background search can significantly reduce the number of problem tenants.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic, LLC  www.tenantmagic.net

Why you shouldn’t use a credit report provided by a rental applicant

Fake credit report web site

Here is a big reason why you should never use a credit report provided by the rental applicant for an application.

It is quite easy to get fake one.  Simply by Google “Fake credit report” and fill out the on-line pdf. Here is a link to one of the sites so you can see for yourself. https://fake-credit-score.pdffiller.com/

Agents and landlords should always use a reputable online tenant screening program to avoid fakes.

You obviously want to know that the information in a completed rental application and screening report is accurate.  It is also critical to know that the person submitting it is who they claim to be.

A quality screening provider will verify the information provided by the applicant and their identification.  When an applicant enters their social security number into the system. The credit bureau will then check to see that the personal data of the applicant matches with what the bureau has on file (date of birth, current address, etc.) The process should then require the applicant to verify their ID. This is accomplished by answering questions that only the applicant would know the answer to such as amount of car payment, previous address or auto loan amount.

Additionally, a credit report is only one of the reports that should be considered by an agent or landlord You really need an eviction report, a criminal history report and a sex offender report to do a thorough review of an applicant.

There is no shortage of scammers out there. And once they are in a property, it is difficult and expensive to get them out.  Then there is often significant damage to the property once you do get them out.

Fortunately there are high-quality tenant screening service providers that you can use.  A good tenant screening service will help identify unqualified applicants before the lease is signed, saving you time and money.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic  www.tenantmagic.net Continue reading Why you shouldn’t use a credit report provided by a rental applicant

Paper rental applications? Do you know what century we’re in?

It never ceases to amaze me the number of agents, landlords and property managers that still use paper applications.

In my last 2 posts I covered how paper applications can complicate Fair Housing compliance and the create personal data security problems.

Today we will look at how time consuming paper applications are, how they make  your business look antiquated and can affect compliance with Fair Housing laws.

Paper applications, whether they are handed out or a downloadable pdf, require the agent/owner/ property manager to enter all that information into the background screening program. (If you are not screening your prospective tenants, then you are just asking for big trouble.)

Typically this can take up to 10 minutes or more per application, which  adds up when you have multiple vacancies.

Paper applications are usually accompanied by paper checks or credit card information application fees that need to be written out and then entered into a payment system, again requiring even more time with data entry.

Still not convinced? Do you still feel that all this paper and redundant data entry is really not that big of a deal?

Then consider the image that you are portraying to your prospective tenants. If you are using paper applications and collecting fees with paper checks you are giving people the impression that your business is not up to date. What are going to think about your property and its maintenance?

Fair Housing compliance is also an issue with paper applications. A blog post by OneRent http://blog.onerent.co/fair-housing-rental-application/  reports that “Many landlords notice that the paper rental applications that they receive, are rarely complete. In most of the cases, the tenant provides half-finished applications that make it difficult for property owners to scourge for and scrutinize additional information. Some tenants provide basic bio data at first and additional bank statements and credit reports later, leaving the property owners with no option but to hand over the house to a new tenant in the interim period.”

Due to the lack of complete information, landlords often discourage potential tenants from looking into their properties or steer such applicants towards another property. This constitutes a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.

Using a reputable online application and screening company makes sense on so many different levels. The amount of time you save and the how you present yourself and business are just two reasons to switch.

Jay Apple is co-founder of TenantMagic www.tenantmagic.net, an online rental application and background screening provider that is free to real estate agents, property managers and landlords.

 

Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications

 

Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications
Your personal data is at risk with paper rental applications

In my last post I discussed the fair housing compliance issues associated with paper applications. In this post we will look at applicant personal data security dangers with paper rental applications and how to keep applicant data secure.

Best practices in screening rental applicants require detailed personal information. You can check out this post to get a good explanation of why this data is important when assessing rental applicants.  http://www.kimberlyhowell.com/renters-landlords/why-does-a-rental-application-require-so-much-personal-info/

According to the FBI, identity theft is the fasted growing white-collar crime in America.

Believe it or not there are still many real estate agents, property managers and landlords that use paper rental application.

There are 2 variations of these

1) An actual paper application that is handed out at the location or available on line and then downloaded to be completed. The completed application is then hand-delivered, emailed or even faxed back to the office.

2) An online fillable pdf.

Both present serious security problems as they are ultimately printed out to be viewed and distributed.

A paper application contains the applicant’s name, date of birth, current address and social security number.  I have also seen credit card information on an application

This is everything an identity thief needs to wreak havoc with an individual’s ID.

Paper applications are not easy to keep secure and away from prying eyes. I have seen them laying out in the open at many offices. These offices typically have a steady stream of people regularly visiting them. There are also cleaning and maintenance people that could access them, especially when the offices are closed and no one else is around.

Fillable, on-line pdfs present an additional security problem when there are multiple applicants. Many times the co-applicants are required to complete the same application as the primary applicant on the same form. The primary applicant will complete his/hers then the co-applicant will continue with the same application. This allows the co-applicant to see all of the primary applicant’s personal information. This is a cause for concern when the applicants don’t know each other all that well.

The solution to resolving these issues associated personal data security dangers with paper rental applications is to use a secure on-line application program.

Make sure it has the following features-

–  Individual applications (that can then be combined for review) for each applicant.

–  The ability to capture an SSN for screening purposes, but not make it visible to anyone after it is entered.

–  Access by permission only. If more than one person needs to review the application, each needs to have their own log on credentials.

Paper applications are obsolete and provide a tempting target for identity thieves. Many of the personal data security dangers with paper rental applications can be greatly reduced by using a reputable on-line rental application and background screening service provider.

Are you still using paper rental applications? – You really need to stop.

There are a number of very valid reasons why paper rental applications can adversely affect your business.

  • Fair Housing compliance issues
  • Information security concerns
  • Redundant data entry
  • Negative impressions

I will address each reason in separate posts.  In this post I will look at  potential Fair Housing compliance issues with paper applications.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect rental applicants and tenants from discrimination and bias by a landlord or real estate agent.  The law which is very comprehensive and among other things, prohibits property owners and landlords from:

  • Refusing to sell or rent out a house based on the race, religion, color, gender or nationality of the tenant
  • Having different terms and conditions for different applicants based on the race, religion or nationality of the tenant for the rental or sale agreement
  • Promoting or advertising the rental with a section that seeks a specified  preferred gender, race or nationals to apply

Please note that Fair Housing laws can vary by state and even municipality. This post is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have any questions about the fair housing laws in your area, please check with an attorney or the proper authorities.

According to Ron Leshnower, who is an attorney, and Founder and President of Fair Housing Helper,  addressed the question – “Do I Have to Accept Applicants in the Order they Applied?”

His answer is “no,” but adds that “…you might want to because accepting applicants out of order, though not illegal, could give the impression of discrimination and may cause legal problems for you.”

Penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act can be very severe. Violations are typically investigated weeks or even months after they are reported. It is incumbent on the landlord or real estate agent to provide documentation that the violations did not occur.

Paper rental application makes compliant rental documentation next to impossible for the following reasons.

Many landlords and real estate agents that do use paper applications can tell you that they regularly receive applications that are missing information. While they are trying track down the applicants to get the information, they are getting new applications for that property.

Landlords can appear to be discouraging potential tenants from applying to their properties or steering them to another property when they select an application from someone who has provided a completed application after a partially completed application was submitted.

This can be considered a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.

Even when the landlord does follow the rules, rejected applicants can claim, rightly or wrongly, that they were turned down due to race, ethnicity or any other of the protected classes. As indicated, the burden is on the landlord to show the first qualified applicant was accepted, which can be very difficult with a paper application months after the fact.

With properly designed online applications, you get two benefits to help keep you compliant with Fair Housing regulations –

  • The application cannot be submitted unless it is complete.
  • Successfully submitted applications are date and time stamped.

Assuming you are complying with Fair Housing rules and consistent with your application process for each applicant, an online application provides you with documentation should a complaint arise.

 

Fair Housing-Compliant Tenant Screening

Fair Housing compliance when screening tenants is so important on many different levels – legal, ethical, and business.

However, it is not difficult to avoid problem tenants before the lease is signed and still be fully compliant with Fair Housing regulations.

It is vital to set and clearly communicate your rental criteria and building standards upfront when screening applicants. If you do get phone inquiries, make sure that you provide each inquirer the exact same information and keep any conversations strictly to the property itself.

Most importantly, the residency requirements must be prominently displayed at the beginning of your application.

Unqualified applicants will typically screen themselves out of the application process if they don’t qualify for your residency requirements and are required to pay an application fee.

Fair Housing compliant standards and criteria can include

  • Rent to income ratio
  • Prior evictions
  • Bill payment history
  • Criminal history

(Please note that state and local fair housing laws can add other protected classes or have regulations that vary from federal laws, so check with your state and municipal housing authorities to make sure you are compliant where your rental properties are located.)

Finally, keep good records of each applicant or inquiry in case you do need to provide documentation if a complaint arisies.

This post is for guidance purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding fair housing laws, please consult an attorney or the proper regulatory agency.

Stop Problem Tenants Before the Lease is Signed

Taking the first person showing up with a check is one of the worst mistakes you can make when considering a rental applicant. Many times this is the last money the landlord will see. And that is only part of the problem. Problem tenants can result in much more than just lost rents.

There is also  –

  • The time and money expended to collect on back rent.
  • The time consuming eviction process and the associated legal fees
  • Many cities are now levying fines and penalties to the landlord for nuisance tenants, including charging for police time when answering a problem tenant call.
  • The repair costs for property damage as problem tenants typically don’t leave the property in good shape.

It is not difficult to avoid problem tenants before the lease is signed and still be fully compliant with Fair Housing and Fair Credit regulations.

The 4 critical steps you need to take to reduce problem tenants and the headaches they bring –

  1. Pre-screen tenants by clearly communicating residency standards
  2. Require complete applications and require each co-applicant to 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. Pay attention to the results

Next – Fair Housing and Fair Credit compliant tenant screening