Calling your rental applicant’s previous landlords for a reference is standard practice in tenant screening. You want to know if the tenant paid his rent on time, followed property rules, and is someone worth renting to. And who better to tell you if an applicant is a good renter than his current or past landlord.
It’s easy enough to ask for your rental applicant’s current and past landlords’ contact information on the rental application. But if your applicant has a poor relationship with the landlord references, you might find a fake reference on the rental application.
A renter might choose to have a friend or family member pose as a current or past landlord in order to get through your tenant screening qualifications. The motive for a fake rental reference might be because the applicant doesn’t have a rental history, has a poor rental history, or simply doesn’t remember their past landlords’ contact information. Regardless of the reason, lying on a rental application is a major tenant screening red flag. If you discover your applicant has lied about a rental reference, you can (and should) deny them housing.
If your applicant rented from an apartment or property management company, it is easy enough to Google the company and call them directly. But if your applicant has a private landlord as their rental reference, you are relying on the contact information your applicant provided to be valid.
Here’s a look at some ways property managers, landlords, and investors have done their due diligence to discover if their applicant’s landlord references are fake.
Pretend to be looking for an apartment
Call the number that is listed on the application and when someone answers, say you are wondering if they have any available rental properties at this time. A real landlord would simply say yes or no to a very normal phone call. But if the person on the other line says they don’t know what you are talking about or simply hangs up on you. It could be a fake.
The fake reference could have been prepared to put on the landlord act if you call saying you need a landlord reference, but you could throw them off guard if you pretend to be calling as a renter.
Listen to the Responses
If the reference is simply agreeing to your questions or saying things like “Yeah, that sounds right,” it could be a red flag. Granted, some property managers might not remember a tenant from a few years back, but
Check Social Media
Does the applicant’s landlord reference’s name come up in photos with your applicant? It could be sign they have a personal relationship not a landlord-tenant relationship.
Ask for Verifying Information
Demetrios Salpoglou, the owner of Boston Pads, recommends that property managers and landlords confirm personal information from the applicant’s rental application with the reference.
“Most landlords worth their salt keep detailed records on their tenants and can easily furnish information like move-in/move-out dates, birthdates, social security numbers. If they don’t have one landlord reference on their application that can do that, I’d say it smells a little fishy,” says Salpoglou.
Check Tax Records
One strategy for verifying a references legitimacy, includes matching the landlord reference’s name with public records indicating the owner of the property.
Ramey Abushahla from Rent Spree, advises that “you can check the tax records of the property to see who the owner is. You should be suspicious if the current owner is different. However, this could mean that the reference is no longer the owner of the property, but they should who the current owner is. Ask them who they sold the property to, and if they don’t know, chances are you’re dealing with a friend of your applicant.”
Cross Reference Phone Numbers
Real Estate Attorney, Rick Davis, advises his landlord clients to research the references phone number by name, business or tax records to see if it matches the one your applicant provided.
“I advise that the best and least expensive way to verify a landlord is to search the phone number that you were provided and/or visit the landlord’s website. If you can’t find a website or craigslist ad posting a rental, the likelihood that the landlord is not legitimate increases significantly.
“Along that note, I always recommend that the prospective landlord look for an advertised number for the previous landlord and not necessarily simply call the number they were provided. Additionally, most states have real estate tax information online that shows the owner of the property. If you haven’t verified the landlord using the methods above, a quick confirmation that the person does in fact own the property can go a long ways to ensuring you are actually talking to a previous landlord. Finally, if you have confirmed the person does own the property, check the credit report that you pulled to verify the tenant and make sure the address is listed as a previous address for that tenant.”
“These steps are not going to ensure you have a legitimate landlord reference, but it is going to drastically increase the odds that the landlord is legitimate without taking too much time or costing too much money when reviewing a potential tenant’s application,” says Davis.