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As far as New Year’s resolutions go, this one is easy. It’s one that we need no reminders or extra incentives to keep. Even if we do nothing,we enjoy at least a 90 percent chance of success. The resolution: No bad tenants.

That’s one resolution every rental owner and manager wants to keep every year. Renting only to good tenants goes a long way toward ensuring a profit in the rental business. Because 90 to 95 percent of tenants can be considered “good,” depending on your own definition of “good,” we need only worry about weeding out a small minority of applicants. But they can be “good” at worming their ways into rentals. Critical thinking can ferret out the most ingeniously designed plans to fool landlords.

How do bad tenants get to rent from us?
There are only two times a landlord gets into trouble, when he’s in a hurry and when he feels sorry for someone. The less ingenious applicants rely on landlords’ good natures and for their wanting to get the place rented. Thus, these less-than-honorable people concoct stories that melt the hearts of even the most stony-hearted landlord.

After all, a black cloud follows them around everywhere they go. They have a knack for going to work for companies that are about to lay people off. Their children often need to be rushed to the emergency room, costing these people hundreds of dollars that otherwise would go toward paying the rent. And their landlords? Oh, these are people who just aren’t “understanding” and demand the rent be paid on time every month and that their tenants keep their homes clean and tidy.

The result is a melting heart. The landlord thinks about the mortgage payment that’s due and no tenant to provide the payment for it, and wants to “give them a chance.” The rental owner neglects to use the three-step process for applicant screening. More about that shortly.

Well-crafted stories are just one tool unqualified applicants use to slither into rentals. The more ingenious bad tenants use. And they all depend on rental owners and managers being less than diligent in their screening.

Often a rental manager gets an application, glances at it briefly to make sure it “looks all right,” maybe gets employment verifications and picture IDs from all applicants, sticks the application in the file, collects the first month’s rent and the security deposit, and hands the applicant the keys. Who know what they think “looks all right” means. Possibly it means their gut feeling, backed up by 20-years’ experience that enables them to tell a good tenant from bad by just looking. But probably it means something different than what the more diligent rental managers mean by it,

The three-stop process. BE SUSPICIOUS!
1. Check the application to ensure that it’s completely filled out. That means no blank spaces where names and phone numbers of previous landlords and employers go, and all previous addresses for the last five years or so are listed.
2. Verify that each employer and landlord exists and that the dates match up with those on the application. You can do that with a credit report, which tells the current address and employer of the applicant, and a Social Search, which tells every place the applicant has lived from his or her Social Security Number.
3. Verify that each employer and landlord reference is accurate. That means checking to see that the phone numbers and names match with those on the application. I know this is hard to believe, but some people will have their friends pretend to be employers and previous landlords. I know, it takes your breath away.

Even the most devious bad tenants, practiced at the art of deception, give themselves away to landlords who are critical thinkers, suspicious and verify absolutely everything. These suspicious landlords are sometimes even more suspicious of an application that looks “too good to be true” than of one that has some dings in it such as late payments on credit cards and empty dates between jobs.

Thinking Critically
Ignoring dings may well work out favorably with an exemplary tenant, but people don’t tell the whole story. They “remember” only the less-than-bad parts. Critical thinking is the most important skill any interviewer can have. Along with suspicion about verification of everything comes the “yeah, but” response. What aren’t they telling you? How do they keep ending up in situations where they can’t pay the rent, where they lose their jobs, where they have to keep taking their kids to the emergency room, and any number of other black-cloud events. Do they lack impulse control or the ability to imagine what causes these black-cloud events? Can you expect that behavior to change if they rent from you?

The three-step process ensures that even the “best” applicants get checked thoroughly because the most profitable rental owners and managers have set-in-stone procedures for checking every application, procedures that take nothing for granted, and who believe nothing they see on an application until they have verified it.

Just think, no bad tenants! That’s a worthwhile and easily achievable New Year’s resolution. All we need to do is be suspicious, verify absolutely everything, ask questions, think critically, and set up and follow procedures for the entire application process.

By Robert L. Cain

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