Tag Archives: prospective tenant

Using Facebook as a Tenant Screening Tool

This is a recent article from American Apartment Owners Association, of which I am a member.  This was posted on their blog today and I found the information to be especially helpful for landlords:

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Q: When I screen potential tenants, I talk to their current landlord and their employer, ask for references, and order a credit report.crystal ballSome of the landlords in town are also regularly looking on the Internet, to see if the applicant blogs, has a Facebook page, and so on.

One friend told me that when he looked at the Facebook page of an applicant he was about to rent to, he saw that the person is really into partying and drinking. My friend didn’t rent to him.

Should I be looking at Facebook pages, too? –David R.

A: Your question calls for two answers: a legal one and a practical one. From a legal point of view, should you be checking applicants’ Internet postings? And, from a practical point of view, is it a good idea?

The steps you’ve been taking when screening tenants are the tried-and-true methods that careful landlords have been using for years to weed out risky applicants: those whose past actions indicate that they may not pay the rent or may not be considerate residents and neighbors. Although these methods are commonly used, they are not legally required.

It’s possible that a court might rule that these tools are the “industry standard,” which might make them quasi-mandatory, but it’s unlikely. Running a residential rental business (unlike, say, car manufacturing) is engaged in by too many people, in too many varied ways, to conclude that it’s an “industry” with common metrics and procedures.

So because you’re not legally required to do even what you’re already doing, it’s very unlikely that a judge would consider checking for Internet postings to be a legally necessary step in the screening process. Consider, for example, the issue of screening for those who are legally required to register as convicted sex offenders.

No state requires landlords to go online and look for their applicants on these lists, and California specifically forbids them from doing so. If you’re not required to consult the Internet for information as serious as registration for one of these crimes, it’s not reasonable to think that you’d have any duty to search for evidence of partying.

This conclusion has to be adjusted, however, for one situation: If you’re hiring a resident manager, you are screening not only a tenant, but a future employee, who will have access to tenants’ personal information and even their homes. You have a duty to make sure that you do not place a dangerous tenant manager in that position — in other words, your duty to screen has changed significantly.

Careful landlords do investigative background checks for tenant managers, with the legally required advance notice to the applicant. These investigations may turn up relevant information, including the applicant’s postings on the Internet.

So much for your legal duty. What about the practical value of hopping online and checking out your applicants? It’s hard to resist, and indeed you may learn information about your applicants’ lifestyle and habits that would reasonably lead any landlord to say, “No thanks on this one.”

As long as you’re looking at Web postings that are available to the public, your applicants will have no legitimate beef if you reject them based on what you see and read. But be careful — you can safely reject any applicant only when your reasons for doing so, no matter where you found the information, are legally justified, and not based on that applicant’s membership in a protected class, such as race and religion.

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For the rest of this article, please visit:  American Apartment Owners Association.  This link will take you directly to the article.

Holding an Open House Saves Time & Money!

In my dreams I fill my vacant units with the best tenants on earth who pay their rent on time, keep the apartment clean, and never move out.  But unfortunately my dreams aren’t reality.

When I’m looking to fill a vacancy I prefer to show the unit like I would an open house.  I’ll pick a day, say Saturday, and set aside a period of time for propsective tenants to view the unit.  For example:  Open House, Saturday, 2-4pm!

I’ll tell as many prospective tenants to come on that same day and time too.  This helps create a sense of urgency and competition amongst the fellow renters visiting the property.  Plus it saves me time from having to meet prospective renters at different times and different days.

By creating a buzz, prospective renters feel the unit is special, limited, and could be rented in a blink of an eye.  This is their chance to grab it before anyone else does.  You never want to eat at an empty restaurant, do you?  Well you don’t want to live at an apartment that no one else is interested in either.

The prospective tenants that are interested will fill out an application right there and then.  Depending on which property I am at, I can also run their credit report on the spot (I check eviction, criminal and some other stuff too).  For screening providers I’ve used and others, click here.

First Drop in TransUnion Credit Risk Index Since 2008; Signals Improved Consumer Credit Risk Conditions

TransUnion’s Credit Risk Index (CRI) declined during the first quarter of 2010after five successive quarterly increases, signaling thatconsumer credit risk conditions in the U.S. are beginning to improve.  The Credit Risk Index is a statistic developed to measure changes in average consumer credit risk within various geographies across the nation.

TransUnion’s Credit Risk Index decreased nationally 85 basis points to 128.82 from 129.67 during the firstquarter of 2010, the first decline of this measure sincethe third quarter of 2008 — the early stages of the current recession.

“Based upon the Credit Risk Index it appears that weare finally beginning to see improvement within theconsumer credit economy and possibly the beginningof an economic recovery,” said Chet Wiermanski, globalchief scientist at TransUnion.

TransUnion CreditRisk Index- Statistics

After reaching an all-time high at the national level theCredit Risk Index’s percent decrease of 0.65 percent wasrelatively small compared to previous times when thenational index declined. “It is not out of the ordinaryto see the credit risk index decline 1 or 2 percent on aquarterly basis, but the direction of the change is whatmatters at this point in time,” said Wiermanski.

On a year-over-year basis, the Credit Risk Index stood1.23 percent higher than it did at the end of the firstquarter of 2009; however, at the end of the first quarterin 2010, 43 states and the District of Columbia experienced declines in their credit risk indices signaling that a broad improvement in consumer credit conditions is finally taking root. Four NewEngland states (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) along with Montana, Utah and Wisconsin experienced slight increases in the credit index.

On a state basis, the order of states with the highestCredit Risk Index did not change with Mississippi having the highest Credit Risk Index at 167.46, fol-lowed closely by Nevada (166.26) and Texas (163.09).Continuing from the previous quarters, the least riskystates are predominately concentrated in New Englandand the Upper Midwest areas of the country, withNorth Dakota coming in at 82.51, Minnesota at 91.14 and Vermont at 93.54. North Dakota, theDistrict of Columbia and South Dakota experiencedCredit Risk Index declines of 2 percent or more.

Analysis

“We are cautiously optimistic that the Credit RiskIndex will continue to experience small declines as consumers keep reducing their debt burden and remaincurrent on their existing credit obligations,” saidWiermanski. “After experiencing one of the mosttumultuous economic periods since the GreatDepression, it is possible that consumers may be reluctant to take on significant debt in the near future,which could possibly temper an economic recovery.”

The Credit Risk Index is defined as the weighted average probability of 90-day delinquency or worseamong consumers in a given region relative to the nation as a whole. The Credit Risk Index uses thefourth quarter of 1998 as a baseline for comparison.Therefore, it measures changes in consumer credit scoredistributions relative to the national distribution anddelinquency rates as a whole at the end of 1998.

TransUnion considered 1998 as a representative year of credit performance within the usual dynamic of the historical credit cycle.  A value of more than 100represents a higher level of relative risk.  For comparisonpurposes, the Credit Risk Index in recent years has generally ranged between 110 and 120, experiencing a one- or two-point shift between quarters.

TransUnion’sTrend Data DatabaseThe source of the underlying data used for this analysisis TransUnion’s Trend Data, a one-of-a-kind databaseconsisting of 27 million anonymous consumer recordsrandomly sampled every quarter from TransUnion’snational consumer credit database. Each record contains more than 200 credit variables that illustrateconsumer credit usage and performance. Since 1992,TransUnion has been aggregating this information atthe county, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), state and national levels.

www.transunion.com/trenddata

About TransUnion

As a global leader in credit and information management,TransUnion creates advantages for millions of peoplearound the world by gathering, analyzing and deliveringinformation. For businesses, TransUnion helps improveefficiency, manage risk, reduce costs and increase revenue by delivering comprehensive data andadvanced analytics and decisioning. For consumers,TransUnion provides the tools, resources and educationto help manage their credit health and achieve theirfinancial goals. Through these and other efforts,TransUnion is working to build stronger economiesworldwide. Founded in 1968 and headquartered inChicago, TransUnion employs associates in more than 25 countries on five continents.

10 Steps Toward Low-Risk Landlording

Learn how to protect your rental property from common mishaps and risky situations.

Most rental property owners worry about protecting their investment. From physical damage to the property to insurance claims to lawsuits brought by tenants, there are myriad ways that you can lose money. Fortunately, minimizing risks in a rental business doesn’t require a ton of money or a staff of experts. All you need to do is learn where you’re vulnerable and then take commonsense steps to minimize that vulnerability.

Here are ten steps you can take to protect yourself against liability as a landlord. By acting now, you’ll enjoy a big payoff: reduced likelihood of lawsuits, harm to tenants and guests, damage to your property, and financial distress to your business.

Step #1: Get the Right Insurance for Your Property and Business

Don’t wait until a loss occurs before you determine whether you have the right insurance for your business and property. Review your current policy with your agent or broker, then discuss coverage options that fit your needs.

Step #2: Make Your Property Physically Sound

Keep your property safe so that people don’t get hurt. To do this, learn the basic legal requirements for repairing and maintaining your property, and then follow them.

Implied warranty of habitability. Virtually every landlord must comply with a legal rule known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” This means you must make sure your rentals are in a “fit” and “habitable” condition when tenants move in, and you must maintain this condition throughout the tenancy. Get familiar with your state and local health, building, and safety codes, and strive to keep your property compliant.

Take steps to prevent injuries and losses. In addition, take other reasonable steps to prevent injuries and other losses. For example, take all tenants’ repair requests seriously and fix problems promptly. Inspect your property yourself for hazards. If you can’t address a hazardous situation immediately, warn tenants and visitors about the danger. (For example, put traffic cones around a pothole, or post signs and safety tape near a spill on the floor.)

Step #3: Make Your Rental Property Accessible to Disabled Tenants

Make your property accessible to tenants with mobility impairments and other disabilities. Check whether structures on your property must follow the Fair Housing Act’s “design and construction” requirements. (Generally, multifamily buildings that were designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 must comply.)

Regardless of when your buildings were constructed, seriously consider all requests from a disabled prospect or tenant to modify your building in order to meet that person’s needs. Review each request on a case-by-case basis and grant it if it’s reasonable. For example, a prospect’s request to install grab bars in the bathroom or lower kitchen cabinets is probably a reasonable modification request.

Step #4: Remove Environmental Hazards from Your Property

Removing environmental hazards is often trickier than removing other physical hazards. Environmental hazards often can’t be seen, and they may not become apparent until they cause injury or property damage. For example, a landlord might not learn of lead paint dust on her property until a family gets their child’s blood test results showing elevated levels of lead. What’s more, in some cases environmental hazards remain invisible even once they’ve caused damage, as in the case of carbon monoxide or radon.

Do your best to address environmental hazards before they cause serious damage. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Require tenants to report all leaks and flooding to you promptly so that you can take quick action to prevent mold.
  • Maintain your heating systems and appliances, and install carbon monoxide detectors in order to prevent carbon monoxide build-up.
  • Comply with federal testing requirements when employees or contractors work on asbestos-containing building materials, such as sprayed-on ceilings. These tests will reveal to workers what’s in your building, and you can use this knowledge to protect your tenants, too.

Step #5: Prepare for and Handle Disasters and Emergencies

Take steps to safeguard your business and protect your property, tenants, and employees in an emergency. For example:

  • Back up your computer files and keep important documents (such as a mortgage, note, and management contract) in a secure and fire-proof off-site storage facility.
  • Report suspicious objects, activities, and mail to the police, and take bomb threats seriously.
  • Document the location of utility shut-off valves, a step that can save lives and minimize damage if a fire or other disaster occurs.
  • Create an emergency procedures manual with an evacuation plan that’s tailored to your property.

Step #6: Lower the Risk of Crime at Your Property

In recent years, courts have increasingly found landlords partially responsible for crimes on their properties because they didn’t provide adequate security.

To prevent problems and keep your property and tenants safe, comply with state and local laws concerning security measures on rental properties. Screen your applicants and employees carefully — don’t just look for experience and know-how when it comes to filling a position on your staff. Adopt a smart key policy so that keys don’t fall into the wrong hands, and make sure your intercom system doesn’t link tenants to their apartment numbers. Answer prospects’ questions about security candidly, and deliver on any promise you make to increase security.

Step #7: Avoid Fair Housing Complaints When Choosing Tenants

If a prospective tenant believes you violated her civil rights, she may take legal action against you. Even if you win, defending yourself takes time, money, and energy.

To avoid problems, learn the basics of fair housing laws. The key to compliance is treating everyone the same. Some ways to do this include:

  • putting your screening criteria into a written tenant selection plan and giving a copy to applicants
  • rejecting applicants for legitimate business reasons, such as poor credit or negative references from prior landlords, and letting applicants know your reasons for rejecting them, and
  • keeping an updated log of apartment availability, and granting prospects’ requests for reasonable accommodations. For example, if you have a “no pets” policy and a prospect needs a guide dog to accommodate his disability, let him keep the dog as an accommodation.

Step #8: Adopt Careful and Consistent Business Practices

Many landlords create risks just by the way they go about their business. Be a careful and consistent landlord by using a written lease or rental agreement with tenants and by enforcing lease clauses consistently. Create house rules for tenants to follow (for example, regarding pets or children’s health and safety) and enforce them. Don’t let a friendship with a tenant interfere with your professional relationship. Also, to prevent identity theft, don’t use tenants’ Social Security numbers any more than needed.

Step #9: Avoid Problems When Hiring Help

Hiring help brings the promise of efficiency, savings, peace of mind, and profitability to your business — but it also brings risk. To lower your risk, determine whether you must classify a helper as an employee or an independent contractor.

For employees, be sure to withhold the appropriate payroll taxes and create a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.

When using contractors, make sure they have insurance and sign a written contract with you.

If you’re considering hiring a management company or need to hire a lawyer, ask questions until you’re satisfied you’re choosing the right one.

Step #10: Taxes: Stay on Good Terms with Uncle Sam

Take steps to avoid a tax audit and to maximize your deductions. For example,

  • Establish a recordkeeping system for your business so that you keep track of every document that will substantiate your claimed income and expenses.
  • Understand how your choice of business structure and tax year affect your taxes.
  • Find out what deductions you’re entitled to claim, and then claim them.
  • Finally, hire the right type of tax pro for your business, and review your past returns for evidence of trends or problems.
Information obtained from nolo.com

For more help regarding these issues please visit:

https://helpforlandlords.com/landlord-state-guide-assistance/

Application to Rent – It’s all in the details

When renting to a tenant or renting to multiple tenants its extremely important to have them fill out a rental application.  Rental application form or application to rent form can sometimes be found at your local stationary store like Staples or Office Depot.  You can also obtain the form from a tenant screening company, find my list here.  Apartment Associations or some may call them landlord associations will also provide the necessary landlord forms.  There are local apartment associations and nationwide associations, you can find my lists for them here.

The Application to Rent is one of the most important pieces of information you can gather from a prospective tenant during the tenant screening process.  Any information they provide assists you with your decision to rent as well as helps you recover lost rent should they skip out (more on this later).

Here is some of the information you should be requesting from your prospective tenant or new renter when they apply for your apartment for rent or home for rent:

  • Tenant full name; include first name, middle name, last name, and any AKA’s
  • Tenant address history; ask for 7-10 years of addresses to assist you in their prior living history
  • Date of Birth; You cannot base your decision to rent on a tenant’s date of birth, however, many tenant screening reports will require this piece of information.  It will also help with the debt collection process should you need to search for them later.  Lastly the tenant’s date of birth also assists should a Jr. vs. Sr. issue ever arise.
  • Social Security Number; This is required to obtain a credit report or tenant screening background report.  The tenant’s social security number can also be used for skip tracing should they leave and owe money.  Many tenant screening companies will also provide Social Security Fraud reports, I recommend you obtain one on your prospective tenant.
  • Phone numbers.  Get their home phone, cell phone, work phone (see below), and any other phone number they will provide.  Why are so many tenant phone numbers needed?  There are 2 main reasons: (1) to let them know you want to rent to them and (2) to chase after them if the tenant leaves owing you money!
  • Work history for 7-10 years.  It’s important to know where your prospective new tenant’s income is coming from.  Do they have a job?  Where is the job?  What is the address of the job?  Their boss’s name?  The phone number to the boss?  The title of their job?  Their previous and current salary?  You want to know all of this information to help in determining if the tenant can afford your rent.  A tenant screening report or tenant background check will provide credit and criminal information as well as insight on their debt/credit,, but their current job should still be verified.  Employment information also will assist in the debt collection process should the tenant skip out owing you money!
  • Banking information is also important.  First you’ll need this information to verify the tenant has the money to pay your rent.  You want to know they can write you a check each month!  (and that it will clear!)  Plus, as I stated with other information above, this will help with the debt collection process.
  • Tenant’s Relatives and Non-Relatives.  This information is helpful for the tenant screening process and the debt collection process.  Relatives will help you confirm the type of person your new tenant is, they will also help you locate the tenant when they leave you owing rent.  Non-relatives are also important because friendships change over years.  Your tenant may list someone that, after moving out, they are no longer friends with.  That person may be more than willing to assist you in your debt collection needs.
  • Additional Occupants in the apartment.  Who else is going to reside in the unit?  What is their name?  What is their social security number and date of birth?  How are they related to your prospective tenant?  Depending on the age of the occupant you may want them to sign the rental lease too.  You should perform a tenant screening background check on every occupant over the age of 18 even if they aren’t signing a lease!
  • Pets.  Do they have any pets?  Do you even want to allow pets?  What kind of pets are they?  Age of pet?  Type of pet?  How big (weight) is the pet?  What’s the name of the pet?  You’d be surprised how often the pet “gets out” and how helpful it can be to know its name.  Or if that dog is parking all night because your tenant is gone and you can yell out to the dog.
  • What type of vehicles does the prospective tenant own or lease?  A tenant screening background check will not always show automobiles.  You should obtain the type of car, color, year, make and model.  Always know whose vehicles are parked on your property.  This includes autos for co-tenants/additional occupants.
  • Ask the hard questions!  Ask the tenant on your rental application form if they have ever been evicted from an apartment or home.  Sure many will lie and you’ll discover an eviction on their tenant screening eviction background check, but others may fear the question and not even apply — saving you time, money, and aggravation.
  • Important:  You must have a signed release from the tenant authorizing you to obtain and investigate information on them such as a tenant screening credit report, criminal background check, eviction records, etc.  The law requires this release, so don’t forget it!
  • Always have the tenant print their name and provide a signature and date.  If the application is more than 1 page, its not a bad idea to have them initial or sign the bottom of each page in the corner.

My apartment association provides rental applications for free.  You can also find landlord forms like the application to rent from some tenant screening companies.  Visit my listings to locate an apartment association by state or visit the American Apartment Owners Association, a nationwide landlord association providing larger discounts than local chapters, for the necessary landlord forms.

What to Look for in a Tenant Screening Background Check

Before any landlord leasing property ever considers signing a lease agreement with a prospective tenant, it is vital that the landlord gets a signed rental application from each adult who will be included on the lease agreement. With this information, the landlord now has the ability to conduct an investigation known as a tenant screeningor background check. This application should request key background information including key questions about the potential renter’s past such as the past addresses for the past 5 years, employment record, and criminal history. One of the most important uses of this application is that it provides the landlord with the basic data from which he or she can conduct an effective background screening on the applicant(s). Nealy all tenant screening services require that you have a valid social security number and many require a current or past address as well.

The data your applicant provides for the purpose of obtaining a lease on your property lies the groundwork for you to be able to harvest an enormous amount of information about your prospective tenant. I would highly recommend that you use a good quality service which provides you with nationwide data. Avoid using tenant screeningservices which only provide you with state only data. It is surprising how many of the big name online background check services are severely lacking the vital information that are imperative for you to have as a property manager. It is absolutely necessary that you obtain a nationwide history of any criminal records, court judgments, and previous addresses.

Once you receive the results of the background check, you want to look for any discrepancies contained within the report that differs from what your had applicant stated. For example, if your background check report shows many different previous addresses reported by your applicant, then you most likely have a major issue. Also, if you find previous court judgments, there are usually major issues. Unlawful detainers are especially troublesome because it means that in the past, your rental applicant had to be forcibly removed from a property with a previous landlord. There are plenty of tenants to chose from who are honest and pay their bills on time with a clean record. Don’t gamble your future with people who have a shady past.

Alexis Hughes has worked in the real estate industry for the past 23 years. For the past 14 years, she has been employed as a property manager and currently serves as the president of the local Property Manager’s Rental Association. Tenant ScreeningBackground Check at tenantscreeningbackgroundcheck.com is an excellent resource that I recommend for conducing effectivetenant screening.

This article is from here: http://tinyurl.com/tenant-screening-help-1

I’ve never used the above referenced tenant screening provider. However, I do list providers on my website through the links found in the header and by Help for Landlords by State.  I am currently very satisfied with the tenant screening service I receive from the American Apartment Owners Association.

In this economy you have to screen your tenants!

As everyone knows the economy is drastically effecting the economy and cash flow.  But now is not the time to cut back on costs associated with proper property mangement practices.  I like to think of my property mangement practicies like Goldlocks and the 3 Bears.

If your expectations are too high (too hot!) you may limit yourself from finding qualified tenants for a vacancy.

If your expectations are too low (too cold!) or vague you may find plenty of tenants but the quality of those tenants will most likely be poor.

If your expectations are reasonable (mmm…just right!) your property mangement practicies will assist in protecting your investment and keeping your cash flow, well, flowing.

One of these good property mangement practices is getting in the habit of doing a thorough background check on a prospective tenant.  Tenant screening background checks are important and the reports included in them can vary.  Generally a tenant screening background check or tenant screening report will consist of the prospective tenant’s credit report or credit history, rental history, and any criminal activity.

Right now many tenant screening providers provide 2 different options to access tenant screening credit reports.  The first option is to receive a rental recommendation based on the prospective tenant’s credit report.  The second is to make your own decision by examining the credit report yourself.

For the first option, a rental recommendation based on the prospective tenant’s credit report, is an extremely valuable and quick way to decide if a tenant is “move in ready”.  The tenant screening provider will run the credit report and provide you with an instant decision based on the applicant’s credit. 

The second option requires a onsite or physical inspection.  Its more work on your part and costs more money.  While it does allow you to make your own decision, I’m not convinced it’s all that necessary. 

When selecting a tenant screening provider make sure they have an assortment of reports to choose from, like:

  • A Credit Report Decision or Credit Report
  • Criminal History
  • Statewide Criminal History
  • Nationwide Criminal History
  • Countywide Criminal History
  • Telecheck – a great source to check if a tenant wrote a bad check
  • Sex Offender Searches
  • Eviction History – I almost forgot that one!  Checking the Eviction history of your tenant is very important!!!
  • SSN History – this will provide you with all addresses associated with the Social Security Number.  It can be really helpful with evaluating some of the reports above
  • Fraud Checks
  • and many more

In addition to running the above reports for a reputable tenant screening provider, you’ll also want to obtain documenation from the prospective tenant.  Not only are these documents great for the tenant screening process but they will help in the recovery your money should the tenant skip out owing you money!  So keep these in mind:

  • Driver’s License
  • Social Security Card
  • United States Passport
  • United States Birth Certificate
  • United States Military Identification Card
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Permenant Resident Card
  • Foreign Passport with United States Visa and valid I-94 form
  • United States Military Discharge or Separation Documentation
  • Medical Insurance Identification Card
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Concealed Weapons Permit
  • Employee Identification Badge (with photo!)

Important!  You should be viewing originals only!  Do not accept photocopies!  It’s bad enough fraudlent documents are created to trick a landlord but its even easier to create a photocopied one.  Only accept originals.

Thanks for listening!