Warning signs: failure to prove identity, creditworthiness
Besides, a friend or family member needs to do this only for a day or two after the applicant has given you his employment information, as he knows when you will be calling. Even the whole bit about calling you and being upset that you called his employer sounds fishy.
This is also true for the call you made to the "current landlord." I call this the "six-pack referral" because many prospective tenants who are being evicted or are skipping out on their current landlord know they will not be able to get a good reference so they have to be creative.
And one possible way to solve their problem is to find a friend who will accept a bribe (like a six-pack of their favorite beverage) to pose as their landlord.
If you properly explained your tenant-screening process, then the prospect not only knows but expects that you will be calling to verify virtually all of the information on the rental application, as well as running a credit check. Many landlords also run a criminal background check, including a check of the sex offender registry.
A comprehensive tenant-screening service will almost certainly pick up and report information that, if you carefully review it, may be inconsistent with what you may have been told by the individuals listed by the rental prospect -- who potentially may be posing as a previous employer or landlord.
So when you ask for the contact information for the employer and current landlord -- be sure to independently verify their identities.
If you have time before the scheduled move-in, which you did in this instance, you can also write a letter and mail it to the employer and landlord. A fake phone call is easy to deny, but very few prospects (or their cohorts in crime) will be willing to send false information through the mail!
Also, the prospect gave you his email address, but everyone has an email address and can get access to email at a public library in many cities. The same is true with the private postal box companies. You need a physical street address, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to even go by the property if you are really in doubt and hand-deliver the rental application form.
Your situation also illustrates one of the best reasons to personally manage your investment properties if they are very close by. Your rental property is 50 miles from your home, so that is within my usual guidelines of a "one-hour drive" unless there is a lot of traffic.
Of course, there is another concern and that is you may not be suited to be a landlord if you are "too nice." It is sad that "too nice" is a problem, but you need to be "fair, firm and friendly," as my dear friend, the late rental housing educator and icon Dorothy Gourley Shaw, would always say.
The more experienced landlords, property managers and tenant readers of this column could probably add several more "red flags" that they see in your story. But I think the point has been made that you need to be thorough in your prospective tenant screening procedures while treating all applicants fairly and in compliance with fair housing laws.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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