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There you are with an incredibly good completed application in hand. Is it too good to be true? Yes, it most likely is, and it’s cause for extra special checking. Spot the red flags. We’ll look at six of them and how to spot them as they run up the flagpole.

Driver’s Licenses
You checked the applicants’ drivers’ licenses when you took their application. Your state requires that when someone moves they notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of their change of address within 30 days. DMV then issues a new driver’s license. You wrote the address on their drivers’ licenses on the Rental Inquiry Form.

Does everyone always tell DMV that they moved? Of course not. Dealing with DMV is a hassle in every state in the Union. But that doesn’t matter here. An address and issuing date does appear on every driver’s license. Most people have to renew their license every two, four, or six years, depending on the state, or when they’re 65 in Arizona.—the average is four years—so then they give DMV a current address.

Red Flag #1—addresses on drivers’ licenses
You compare the address on the driver’s license to those listed as previous addresses. You note that the driver’s license address doesn’t appear anywhere as a previous address on the rental application. Hmmm.

Credit Reports
Your applicants, assuring you that their credit was spotless, signed a sheet allowing you to pull their credit report. What you find when you get the report is telling.

Red Flag #2—addresses on credit reports
Their credit is not bad. There’s not much there, a couple of store credit cards that seem to have been paid on time, and a Visa card that has a low limit and is current. (They did forget about the one judgment, though.) The interesting thing is the lines at the top of the report right below their names—current and previous addresses.

You notice that their current address on the application appears on the credit report, but the address before is nowhere to be found. That address also doesn’t appear on the driver’s license. Now you have two addresses to be curious about.

County Tax Records
In total, you now have five addresses. Three are on the rental application as previous addresses and two you have discovered from the applicants’ drivers’ licenses and credit report. You go online to the county tax assessor’s office. It gets interesting.

You find the property owners at each address. This is all public record, so you have no problem getting the information. Now you have four names and addresses of owners.

Red Flag #3—names and contact information on county tax records
The interesting thing about the “previous landlord” names on the rental application is that all three are different from the names listed as the owners of the property. It is possible that the “landlord” names could actually be property managers, but it is worth checking.

Looking the property owners up online in the white pages gives you two phone numbers; a call to directory assistance results in a nonpublished number for the third property owner. The nonpublished number is the current landlord. You’ll deal with that later.

Wow! Do you get an earful when you call the two property owners whose names you got from the county. Yes they were the actual landlords, and, no, they didn’t have property managers. Some of the responses are not printable, but the gist of them was that your “near perfect” tenants left both rental properties in the middle of the night, owing considerable money to their landlords. These folks sure wish they knew where these sterling tenants were so they could serve them with a summons to appear in court to answer the lawsuit. You are happy to oblige.

There’s still more fun to be had. Remember the two addresses that weren’t listed on the rental application? You get phone numbers for both those property owners, too. Your calls to them result in even better information. They tell you about the police visits to the unit. These landlords would also like the current address of your applicants. “Anything to help,” is your response

Red Flag #4—names and phone numbers of previous “landlords”
And the fun isn’t over. What about the phone numbers that the applicant listed on the application as current and previous landlords? First you look them up in the online reverse directory and discover that one of them is listed to someone with the same last name as your applicant. Your decision’s obvious about renting to this applicant, but you call them just for the entertainment value.

The conversation goes like this:


“Hello, this is Joe Landlord. I’m calling for a reference about Jerry Applicant.”

“Yes,’ he says immediately, “he lived here six months, always paid the rent on time and was a terrific tenant.”

“Thanks. And just for my records, what is your name?”

“Bill Landlord.”

“Thanks, Bill.”

Now you know for a fact that you just dialed the phone number of someone with the same last name as your applicant. Nobody named “Bill Landlord” lives at that phone number. You also know, from having called landlord references in the past, that they never have all the information about a previous tenant right at their fingertips; they have to look it up. So even if you had called these people first, before you verified anything, you would have been suspicious about how fast they were able to answer your questions about the applicants.

Red Flags #5 and #6—Employment and income
The employer listed on the application does exist, but the phone number is different from the one on their website and the yellow pages, not even the same prefix as on the application. Another interesting thing is that all the dollar amounts for income are in round numbers, another red flag.

You call the number of the company you find on their website and talk to human resources. Yes, he works there but has for only three months, not three years.

The old axiom “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. What seemed like the perfect tenant is a perfect tenant from hell. Your simple verification of the information on the rental application saved you the same fate as the landlords who weren’t as careful when they rented to these folks.

by Robert L. Cain

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