Rental Scams Part 3: Fake Landlord References and Half-Truths
You are a landlord. So, when it comes to allowing a new tenant to live in your investment property, you want to feel confident in your choice, right?
Landlords know whether tenants pay their rent on time. They know just how well they care for the property – and how well they follow the rules within the lease agreement.
To sum up our series on rental scams, we want to touch base on some of the fake landlord references and half-truths that you may encounter as you go through your tenant screening. Let us explain why getting legitimate landlord references is so important.
The Importance of Landlord References
There is a good chance that a new tenant applicant is not going to tell you about all the times they were late on their rent. Or, how they scratched the wood flooring and tried to cover it up with their couch. And, the probably won’t tell you that they skipped out on their lease a little bit early without following through the proper steps stated within the lease.
But, do you know who will? The landlord.
You can find out all these details and more by just having a chat with the prior landlord. It is a way of protecting yourself because, face it, if the applicant was willing to do it and then lie to you about it, then they may treat your property the same.
How Do You Know it’s an honest reference?
Anyone could pretend to be a prior landlord, can’t they? Of course! This is why it is so important to make sure you have information pertaining to their prior lease that is truthful and factual. And, since you can’t always rely on a stranger to give you that information, you have to do some work yourself.
Rentals that fall under the care of a property management team are rather simple. You know you are dealing with a company and their information is readily available. And, they keep records. It is a professional business interaction.
When it comes to the smaller landlord, however, things can get a bit more tricky. Some applicants will try to scam you by placing the name and number of a friend or family member on the application. This person will answer and pose to be the landlord. Here’s what you can do:
- Verify that the name given for the landlord matches the owner of the property by checking the property records.
- If the only contact information for a past landlord given is a phone number that appears to be a cell phone, you may want to keep your eyes open and proceed with caution.
- When you call the number given, if you get a sleepy or unprofessional answer, then there is a good chance this is not the true prior landlord.
There is a lot of information online if you just dig a little. Never assume that the information you have been given is truthful until you can confirm it.
What to Ask When Calling a Past Landlord
So, once you verify that this is the landlord, what do you ask? Well, you are trying to find out the following information:
- Did the applicant pay rent on time? Were they ever late? If so, how often in a 12-month period?
- How many people lived at the property?
- Were you given timely notice of vacating?
- Did the applicant have pets at the property? Were pets allowed on the lease?
- Were there any lease violations? If yes, how many?
Essentially, you want to make sure they paid their rent and cared for their property. Finding out if they got their deposit back can give you a good idea about both of these.
What NOT to Ask
Of course, there are things that you don’t want to ask a prior landlord – especially if you are trying to abide by the Fair Housing Act, which you should. Do not ask any questions pertaining to an applicant’s:
- Familial status
- National origin
You cannot base your decision to rent property based on any of these items. So, bringing them up would be useless – and only cause for alarm.
As you move forward with your tenant screening, it is always a good idea to reach out to the two prior landlords. Together, you can get a pretty good idea of what type of tenant your applicant is and if he or she is telling the truth.
While it may seem to be an extra step, doing your research and asking the right questions is the best way to protect yourself and your rental property from falling victim to scams.
Marina Shlomov, a managing partner at ALH|Podland Rental Homes Property Management is the author of many articles on Landlording, Property Management, and Real Estate Investing. A residential builder in the state of Georgia since 1999, Marina is an investor herself. Her property management company is intended “For Investors” and “By Investors” for a simple reason – she knows what investors’ goals are and she works hard to reach their goals. In her spare time, Marina likes to spend time with her family, friends, garden, read and travel. Check her out at www.alhpodland.com. You can find Marina’s articles and comments at @rentalhomesatl on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+, Blogger. and YouTube,Bigger Pockets and REI CLub and LinkedIn.