One of the most crucial aspects to a tenant screening is checking the prospective tenants’ landlord references. People have been known to make up references or list friends or family members as previous landlords. There are even companies that hire themselves out to pose as landlords. Here are a few tips to help landlords spot fake references.
Always ask for specific information
When people lie, they tend to be as vague as possible to hide what they don’t know. If you call a reference and aren’t getting clear and direct information, it could be a fake reference. Ask for them to go into detail about something in particular that they’ve mentioned, or how the matter was resolved.
If you are feeling suspicious, ask for information you have obtained through your initial tenant screening. Landlords usually keep files on tenants even after they’ve vacated, so ask about birthdates, old addresses, or anything else that a landlord would be likely to have on an application.
Be suspicious of too much information
Another sign that may indicate false information is when the reference gets too specific. They make up a lot of detail because they think it will sell the story. Listen for a reference to give away personal information about a tenant that only a friend or family member would likely know.
Of course, some people really do rent from family or friends, and that can be legitimate. Also, some landlords are just very chummy and like to get to know their renters on a deeper level. Just be alert and check up further on any suspicious references.
Ask for advice
Landlords tend to have the same frustrations, interests, and problems. It wouldn’t be at all unusual for you as a landlord to ask for some advice from another landlord while calling for a reference. Ask their procedure for getting rid of a tenant who doesn’t pay or what their rules are if the police get called for excessive noise at the property.
A real landlord will have an actual answer, even if they’re not interested in spending much time on the phone with you. A fake, on the other hand, will likely have nothing specific to say. This can help you further determine whether the person on the other line is a trustworthy tenant, or someone just posing as such.
How to check on a landlord reference
If you think you’ve spotted a fake landlord reference, there are some things you can do to check up if your gut is right in warning you about a reference.
Cross reference phone numbers
If the landlord in question claims to be from an agency or have an independently-owned rental business, check their website and confirm that you’ve been given the same phone number. If it’s a legitimate landlord number, it will probably be online on a real estate site or even a personal ad listing. If no rental property records or information comes up in the search, you may be dealing with a fake.
Look at tax records
The tax records for all property owners are in the public domain. All you have to do is look up the records for the address where the applicant claims to have lived. The name on the tax record should match the name you’ve been given. Double check that the property hasn’t been sold, but otherwise this is a great way to spot a fake.
Find a real number
In many cases, a tenant using a fake reference will give the real landlord’s real name but add a fake number to it. That way, they hope, if you check tax records or do a Google search, you’ll see the right name and think the reference is legit. Do an internet search for the landlord’s name and address, and check that the number you see there matches the number you’ve been given.
A prospective tenant could make up a reference because they want to hide the fact that they have no rental history. Worse, they could have a history of abusing the places they rent or even want to rent for nefarious reasons. Keep these tips in mind to ensure your prospective tenant is trustworthy and handing you accurate information about their past rentals.