All landlords in Houston aim to find the best possible tenants, but sometimes that’s a difficult task. Fair Housing laws prevent landlords from getting too personal during the screening process and even when you don’t break any discrimination laws, some rejected tenants will file a lawsuit anyway.
Screening your tenants is the most important part of the application process because proper screening mitigates and prevents common issues. For example, income screening will tell you if your tenants can afford the rent and running a credit check will tell you if they’re likely to pay rent on time. A criminal background check will tell you if an applicant has been convicted of serious offenses that might put other tenants at risk like dealing drugs, rape, or assault.
Last but not least, a casual conversation with an applicant can give you an idea of what they’re like as a person. A casual conversation can also be a tool for detecting lies if done correctly.
Landlords need to identify dishonest, troublesome applicants
What happens when a tenant passes all the screening and turns out to be a nightmare tenant? Or if your tenant turns out to be one of those people who makes a career out of setting up and suing landlords? Is it possible to identify a dishonest tenant before accepting their application and allowing them to move in?
The answer is yes – sometimes – and to identify potential fraud early on, the following strategies will help.
- Get a full color photocopy of their ID – better yet, scan it
Photos on drivers licenses and government-issued photo ID cards, including passports, aren’t always the best quality. When an applicant hands you their photo ID, look closely at the photo and be serious about verifying you’re looking at a picture of the person sitting in front of you. If you’re not sure the person in front of you is the photo ID holder, don’t say anything right away.
When you photocopy their photo ID, make that copy in full color in high resolution. You’re actually better off scanning the photo ID to make the details more visible since printed copies aren’t that great.
Once you’ve got a full color copy (or scan) of their photo ID, proceed as you normally would and wait for an opportunity to have a casual conversation with the applicant.
Make small talk with the applicant and see if you can get them to tell you if they have any siblings. Take note if they mention a sibling of the same gender, especially a twin. For example, twin brothers in China pulled off sharing the same driver’s license for twenty years. When one twin would get a suspended license, he’d just use his brother’s.
It’s possible an applicant might use a sibling’s photo ID card in order to pass a background and credit check. If you suspect that’s what’s happening, notice as many details as possible about the applicant and compare it to the color copy/scan of the ID they provided.
While you may not be able to prove that an applicant is using their sibling’s photo ID, you’ll have a full color copy of the ID that might come in handy later.
- “Google” your applicant’s references
Dishonest applicants might give you false references and have their friends or family members play the part. You’ll need to do some digging and number matching to uncover this lie.
First, do a reverse lookup for every phone number your applicant provides before calling their references. Make sure the names and numbers match when possible.
Be especially vigilant about verifying an applicant’s professional, rental, and employment references. You’d be surprised what lengths people will go to in order to pass tenant screening. Even people with nothing to hide set up fake references to avoid having to explain employment gaps and/or terminations. They know landlords consider these red flags.
How to verify applicant references legally
Say an applicant gives you their manager’s direct cellphone number. Don’t assume that phone number is actually their manager’s number.
Before calling the number, find their employer’s official number, call the business, and ask if the manager is (insert name given by applicant). Hopefully, you’ll get a match. Even so, be careful still. Without calling the store directly, you have no way of verifying the person you’re about to call is, in fact, the manager.
Once you call the number given and verify employment, call their employer once more at their official phone number, ask to speak to the manager by name, and verify that you just had a conversation on their personal cellphone.
Research phone numbers only – avoid social media
Looking up phone numbers is legal, but be careful not to accidentally violate Fair Housing laws by looking at an applicant’s social media accounts. For instance, if you view an applicant’s Facebook page and later reject their application, they could sue you for discrimination if they belong to a protected class that would have been revealed through their posts.
- Chat with your applicant on the phone before the tour
Applicants will expect you to call and verify a time and date to tour the property, but they won’t expect you to ask them questions like:
- Why are you moving?
- What’s your credit score?
- How much money do you make?
- Where are you employed?
Asking these qualifying questions on the phone will catch a dishonest applicant off guard. They won’t have time to think about their answers and any false answers they give are more likely to be exposed as lies during the actual tour when you ask the same questions.
With Green Residential, you can screen Houston tenants without the hassle
No matter how routine tenant screening becomes, it’s always a time-consuming task. If you dream of the day when you no longer have to screen tenants while still earning income from your rental properties, we can help.
Our property management team has more than 30 years of experience screening tenants and finding those hard-to-spot red flags. We handle every aspect of the screening process including credit and criminal background checks, and rental history checks. Contact us today and find out how we can help.