How to Screen for Professional Tenants, a True Story of a DC Property Manager

Written on July 20, 2015 by

Screening for Professional Tenants“No more bad tenants!” was the response of a Washington DC property manager when asked what single change would benefit your business the most.

Recently, I met with a successful investor, landlord, real estate agent, and licensed property manager who oversees properties across DC and Virginia. She’s also a Cozy customer. Her story is one of difficult lessons learned, and so amazingly horrible that I just had to share.

For the last 10 years, she’s built a reputable business on only a few dozen rentals, some hers, some belonging to others. She’s experienced, has a Master’s degree in Real Estate, and prides herself on providing a quality service.

However, like every entrepreneur, the road to success is often a bumpy one. A few years ago, she was under pressure to get a trendy Dupont Circle condo rented quickly. The wealthy owner was leaving the country, and wanted his affairs wrapped up – which included a signed lease and deposit funds.

The property manager, “Janet” for anonymity (by her request), found an eager and polite government contractor who was looking to move into the city. “The place is perfect” he said.

Janet wryly commented “… perfect for his scheme…[scoff]”. Janet did what she called an “express screening”, which she acknowledges as her first mistake. Instead of running a credit report through an unbiased third-party, she accepted the report that the gentleman had printed out from a free credit report website. She then called his employer, and spoke with someone in HR who verified his employment and income. “Everything checked out on the surface, and I just assumed he had a security clearance” said Janet.

“Everything checked out on the surface…”

She felt comfortable enough to sign a lease, and collected the first month’s rent and a security deposit. At the lease signing, she handed over the keys. Admittedly, that was her second mistake.

He moved in that evening despite his lease not starting for a few days. Shortly thereafter, she was notified that both checks had bounced. Without hesitation, she confronted the tenant who apologetically wrote two more checks, this time, from a different account at a different bank.

They bounced too. In fact, after meeting with a bank manager, Janet discovered that the tenant had four open checking accounts at that bank, each with a balance less than $0.10.

It was at this point that Janet realized she had been fooled by a professional tenant. She even began to question if the employer was legit, or simply just a friend who was in collaboration with the tenant.

nature-animal-fur-wolf

Passionately, Janet explained, “It was clearly a well-rehearsed plan that the tenant had executed many times before. He was a wolf and I was his prey, and I let him into my house.”

Janet went on to say, “I felt ashamed that I had let this liar through. My stomach was in knots knowing that I had to call the owner. Worse, I was certain that if I had run a proper credit and background check, this could have been avoided.”

Janet sent her 6”, 250 lb. male employee to the property to confront the tenant again. This time, the delinquent tenant told the employee to “leave now or I’m going to hurt your body.”

“Leave now or I’m going to hurt your body”

The DC Metro Police were notified, but quickly dismissed the case citing this was a landlord-tenant issue and needed to be handled in eviction court – despite the tenant never paying a cent.

Janet spent the following two months navigating the complex, tenant-friendly DC court system, and was well-prepared for her court date. The owner flew back from England to attend the hearing, and was expecting to confront the tenant. Minutes before the appointment, Janet received a text message stating “I’ve moved out, you’ll never find me.” The tenant did not appear in court, and Janet won the eviction judgement.

“I’ve moved out, you’ll never find me”

Immediately after the hearing, Janet and the owner visited the condo only to find the door open, and the floors covered in water. The tenant had stuffed pillows into the washing machine, spun the knob, and let it run. The exotic hardwood floors were warped beyond repair, and months of rent had been lost with little chance of collecting on the judgement.

The owner looked at Janet in disappointment, and said “how could you let this happen?”. Janet lost the client, and was at risk of a lawsuit against her company for negligence. Luckily, the owner wanted to move forward without further legal action, but Janet had lost a client and her reputation through this event.
“I learned that it only takes one bad tenant to ruin a business, and the best way to deal with a bad tenant is to make sure they never move in,” Janet said.

Janet now uses Cozy to run detailed credit and background checks on all her applicants. Being a small brokerage, she no longer needs to collect an application fee, but rather just instructs the applicants to pay for the screening reports directly through Cozy. Janet adds “Cozy has the most detailed credit report and background check I’ve ever seen, and I never have to worry about a tenant forging a report again.”

Since using Cozy, Janet has noticed that, “high-quality renters get excited about my online, transparent screening process, while the bad tenants never seem follow through with application. I have not had to evict a single tenant since using Cozy,” says Janet.

“I have not had to evict a single tenant since using Cozy.”

Can I Interview You?

If you use Cozy, and it has improved your business, let me know. I’d love to interview you and feature your story on Landlordology. If it’s a bad story, you can remain anonymous (like Janet). If it’s a good story, I’ll link back to your website.

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Topics:
  Evictions, General, Screening

5 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Cox

    The story should act as a continual reminder to us all in this business, one slip that is all it takes!!

    I think that is where we can, as landlords, work together and post these events with JUST facts to stop the legal repercussions , there are many sites that do this, but centralized approach is the best, perhaps Cozy is that catalyst.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Cox,

      Thanks for the comment. Your idea is a good one, but it’s been tried before – by dozens of companies and some are still doing it. You’re absolutely right that if people posted JUST the facts, then it wouldn’t be a problem, but inevitably, someone will posts a subjective review and then the tenant sues the listing site, and it all comes crashing down.

      At Cozy, because we process rent payments for tens of thousands of tenants, we have actual data on their rent payment history. To me as a landlord, that data is more important than a previous landlord’s version of the facts. We’re trying to make that data available to other landlords who are screening tenants through Cozy. Since we can vouch for it’s accuracy, it’s a lot less risky than a subjective review.

      Thoughts?

  • Tyler M Faust

    First of all thanks Lucas for all your help on this website! It’s been a huge help for me starting in the rental business.

    I had done a lot of learning for your site and others and I learned make it very clear for any potential tenant that I will do a very thorough background and credit check and have a minimum credit score posted. This usually weeds out those who wouldn’t qualify to renting my property. This saves me time and energy and relieves a lot of pressure of dealing with sketchy people. This would discourage any potential tenant who has a criminal past, eviction history, and/or credit problems. They will pass on by your property and prey on somebody else.

    I will be using Cozy with my next tenant for sure!

    Blessings,
    Tyler

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for your note. I’m glad this site has helped you!

      Good luck with your efforts and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions along the way. Cheers!

  • Joel Lowrie

    It’s important to go for both the credit check and the background check. I’m currently in the process of evicting a tenant that passed a background check with 1 eviction 4 years ago and a second that was ongoing at the time she was looking for an apartment. She had a friend pose as her landlord and she had all the info. A credit check and a docket search for evictions would have tipped me off. An expensive mistake on my part. Luckily she paid the security deposit by money order so that didn’t bounce.

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