Two Easy Application Verification Tricks

by Robert L. Cain, Copyright 2024, Cain Publications, Inc.

They seem like nice people, and they may be. Appropriately well-dressed with children who are both respectful and behaved, they might just be great tenants. But we can’t take appearances and first impressions carefully crafted as evidence of how they’ll be as tenants.

The first and absolute rule of tenant selection is verify everything. Nice people who will be good tenants will have no trouble qualifying with these two verification techniques.  They are both simple and quick.

First is the driver’s license trick. Of course, you always ask for picture ID from every adult applicant. Usually that is a driver’s license and that can tell a couple of things that many bad tenants might never think of. Bad tenants count on landlords who are in a hurry and accepting of a sob story. When they filled out their rental application you asked for their current address and landlord and three or four previous addresses and landlords. Now you ask to see their driver’s licenses. Absent that, they may show you a passport. We’ll look at how to deal with that in a minute. If you are able to, make a copy of the front and back of the driver’s license. You make  copy of the back because some states (you know if yours does) put a change of address sticker on the back.

If they say they don’t have a driver’s license, ask how they got themselves to see your property.

Now check the rental application to make sure it’s completely filled out. Remember, you are in charge. It’s up to you to decide when an application is acceptable, not them. If it fails the completeness test, hand it back to your applicant and ask for the missing information. “I don’t remember” won’t work as a valid excuse for a blank space or incomplete information. Tell them to take it home with them, find out the information, and bring it back to you. No exceptions.

Satisfied you have a completed application, get the driver’s license out again and look at their address. Now compare that with the current address they listed on their application. Do they match? If not, does the address on the driver’s license match the previous address, the one on their application? Maybe it matches or another address comes after it or before it. No, people don’t run right down to the DMV to get their address changed on their license even though the law says they’re supposed to. Nobody likes to deal with or has time to deal with the DMV, so they just leave it until renewal time. But you have information you can use to verify information on their application.

Second is the verification trick and where the fun begins. Get on your computer and look up county tax records. Depending on the state and county, that information will be in a different place but usually with the recorder’s office. It doesn’t matter if they just moved from another state. Chances are you can get the information online from whatever state they say they moved from. This step is essential, though, and if you can’t get the information, you can reject them because you were unable to verify.

The application listed the names of current and previous landlords and their phone numbers. Check to see if the listed property owner is the same one listed on the application. Not acceptable as the name of a previous landlord are first names only. Debbie and Sam are not the owners (because they can’t remember the last names of those landlords). You need last names. But you should have spotted that when you looked over the application for completion. I know, if their landlord was a management company, it will be different. Even so, that’s information you can use.

What if the property owner’s name is different from the name your applicant listed as the landlord? Again, it could be a property manager, but that’s something easy to verify. Keep checking previous addresses and landlords. Are they all suspicious appearing as in different from the names on the application? Huge red flag. Cross check the phone number of the previous landlords with the ones they listed on the application. You can do that online, too. Yes, you might have to pay a dollar or so for each check or pay by the month, but that’s why you charge an application fee. Do the phone numbers match the property owner’s name on the application? Are they even close? Then go the other direction and see who the phone number belongs to. If it’s  a cell phone, you won’t get a listing, but you probably will with a landline. If the numbers don’t match, more fun begins if you want to go that far. But the numbers not matching is grounds to reject the applicant out of hand.

Call the phone of the registered property owner, the one you found with the county tax records, and ask if they had been the landlord for your applicant. Assuming they had been, would they rent to them again? Now listen. What you hear could be telling or it could just confirm that they are the nice people that they appeared to be. If the number belongs to a management company or property manager, they will answer with the company name, not just “hello.”  “Hello” or “yeah” could mean they have a friend pretending to be the landlord.

Assuming the rest of the application checks out such as for their employer, whom you’ve also called to verify, you can call your applicants to ask about the discrepancy. At that point, you could have rejected them automatically, but sometimes it’s informative to hear a good story, isn’t it?

What if they showed you a passport but didn’t have a driver’s license and their story about how they got to see the property seems reasonable. You’ll have to skip the addresses on the driver’s license and go directly to verifying landlords with county tax records. It works the same but starts with step two.

Most of the time nice people or those acting like nice people are and will be good tenants, but the times you find them out by discovering their deceptions make it worth every minute you spend on the verification process. With the current shortage of rental properties, we can afford to require that our applicants meet all our criteria, not theirs, and have been completely and verifiably truthful.

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