A good tenant is, indeed, hard to find. Most landlords find the new tenant search to be the most challenging aspect of the job — even with all the digital tools at your disposal, it’s ultimately a judgment call on your part whether to accept an applicant. To make the tenant search even more of a headache, the current and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra layer of anxiety — what if your super-looking applicant gets laid off next month? First, accept that the world is different, and there are many things that are just beyond your scope of knowledge or control. Focus instead on the things you can control, like getting a quality tenant. You’re thinking, I have a strong application process with background and credit checks, and I always check for fake landlord references.
That’s a good start — as long as you are aware of fake landlords who give fake landlord references. There is a thriving economy for false references in the rental world — Paladin Deception and Reference Pal are among two of the worst. These sites quite cheerily outline how they will fake your landlord references (for a small fee, of course), and you, the landlord, will ever be none the wiser. There’s also a Reddit thread dedicated to how to fake references — that one is free.
The following tips are tried and true ways to spot a fake landlord reference — sure, it takes a bit more time than simply calling a number and asking a series of boilerplate questions. But an hour of your time is well worth avoiding a scam tenant.
Check out Social Media
First stop, check social media for a fake landlord.
Look through your prospect’s pages — Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are good starting points. See if the reference is a friend or follower of the applicant. Are they tagged or photographed together? Do they “like” each other’s posts and leave comments? Okay — how many of your tenants do you go out with on St Patrick’s Day? If social media hints at a personal relationship, cyberstalk a little deeper. Is there a professional profile page for the rental company, or are the social media ghosts? Also check out the landlord’s website to confirm they are legitimate.
Pay Close Attention to Responses
False reference responses can be really vague, or, conversely, too personal.
When you call the reference, skip the prepared questions and engage the respondent in conversation about the prospect. This gives you an idea for whether there was a real business relationship, or if the reference is a hired gun or best friend.
If the respondent agrees to everything you say, mumbles uh-huh, or doesn’t have much recall for simple questions (did they have a pet? Were there pet damages to the property?). Hesitancy is another red flag, as is a sudden need to get off the phone.
On the other hand, enthusiastic responses that tell too much are equally bothersome — how would you, as the landlord, know that they take really long showers and hog all the hot water? While it is possible there is a personal relationship between the landlord and tenant, it’s unlikely — just like it’s unlikely that the fake landlord would not recall if the police had the property on their Saturday night rotation.
Get Verifying Details
Again, throw away the scripted questions and engage the party on the other end. Rather than reel off the information you have about the property, ask for the data — what were the move in and move out dates, what was the rent, applicant’s social security number, birthday — even verify the property address. Keeping detailed records is a must in the property management business, so be very skeptical of a reference who can’t answer basic questions. One caveat — the professional cheats will have most of this information, so it’s up to you to dig a little deeper.
Get Details on the Property
You’re both real estate professionals (in theory), so ask the reference about the property. How many bedrooms and bathrooms? Were any utilities or city services included? What was the square footage, was parking included, were there other amenities (pool, clubhouse, playground) or add-ons? Vague responses or the inability to answer are the hallmarks of a fake landlord reference. While you’re talking shop, get some of the info wrong — number of bedrooms or parking spaces, for example, and see if they catch the mistake.
Check Tax Records
Search local tax records to verify the property address — some addresses listed as a prior residence don’t even exist. Also, search the landlord’s name to see if they in fact own the property. A matching name and address is generally a legitimate situation, but there can be reasonable discrepancies if the landlord is not the owner or has very recently sold the property.
Call the Reference Looking for a Rental Property
You’ve got the phone number for the fake landlord, so give them a call to inquire about a property for yourself. The false references will be completely flummoxed and hang up, or stumble over their words. Professional fakes expect this call, and will give you some information on some properties they have. Ask for links to their listings. If you just get verbal data, press for an appointment to see the property. You might browbeat them into a showing, but undoubtedly they will cancel on you.
Stick With Legitimate Processes
As a landlord, you have your own responsibilities towards the applicant. Even though an applicant sets off every alarm bell in your head, you can’t just turn them down without conducting a thorough investigation. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has strict rules regarding the disposition of applications, and refusing to rent based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, or family status is illegal. The fake landlord reference company Reference Pal markets specifically to applicants who are disadvantaged, and are on the lookout for landlords who fail to cross a procedural T or dot an I to get unqualified tenants into properties. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to do your due diligence on all applicants and determine the best candidate.
Keep It Simple
One way to protect yourself against applicants who fabricate references is to let them know in writing, on the application, that lying on the application in any fashion is grounds for a refusal to rent, and if the tenant is accepted, grounds for eviction. Professional property managers have the experience to spot fake landlord references quickly and without a lot of hassle, so consider hiring a professional for this and all your management needs — let them worry about screenings and trolling social media.
Contact us to learn more about spotting a fake landlord.