It doesn’t matter how long you own investment properties, you’re going to encounter someone at one point who may provide you with fake landlord references on their application.
The good news is that spotting those fake landlord references is easy especially if you follow these tips.
#1: Call the Number Looking for a Rental
Instead of calling as a landlord (what’s expected), it’s time for you to brush off your acting skills. Pretend to be a renter interested in seeing any available properties. An obvious imposter may be confused, stumble over their words, or hang up immediately, signaling a red flag, whereas another landlord would have a simple yes or no answer. However, this isn’t foolproof as deception services and even friends/family can expect this call. That’s why it’s important to dig deeper—be bold and schedule an appointment to see the property. Imposters won’t want to take it that far, or will cancel at the last minute to keep up the charade.
#2: Analyze the Responses about the Tenant
Now you’re inquiring as the landlord. Putting your sleuthing skills to work when getting answers about the tenant. Be wary if they are too vague. If the reference is passively agreeing to what you’re asking about the tenant or isn’t sure what to say, that could also be a sign of a false reference. If you can’t get concrete details about the tenant (e.g. if they paid rent on time, if they caused trouble, how they communicated with the landlord, etc.) or if they have a sudden excuse to hang up (use your imagination), chances are this person isn’t a landlord. Granted, some landlords can be very busy or might not remember each tenant.
Also be wary if the responses are too personal—such as info only a friend or family member might know, like just how clean the bathroom is and how loud they play their country music at night. While landlords can have good relationships with their tenants, it’s not common for them to become close friends. Do you hang out with your residents? Unlikely. However, this isn’t a total reason to think the tenant roped in a phony reference as some landlords can have amicable relationships with their residents.
#3: Check Facebook and Instagram
Take it to social media. Search the reference’s name and see if there are any ties to your applicant’s profiles, whether they’re each other’s friends or followers, or if they’re tagged in each others’ pictures/posts. If there’s some overlap between the profiles, chances are it’s a personal relationship rather than a landlord-tenant relationship. You probably don’t have pictures with your tenants, right? Dig a little more into the reference’s profiles, but remember some landlords can be more personal with their tenants and also might not have information specific to being a landlord on their pages.
#4: Request Verifying Details
Landlords usually keep files on their tenants even after they move out. Meticulous record keeping is a good quality in this line of work. Definitely verify information such as move in date, move out dates, social security number, and birthday. Pro tip: Ask the reference to give you the information rather than you dictating the details so all they have to do is agree. Note that landlords with smaller portfolios may not keep the best of records, but if all of the landlord references can’t verify this info, something is definitely off.
#5: Research Tax Info
Property tax and land records are publicly available. It’s easy to check the landlord’s name and see what comes up, or search for records concerning the property. If the name matches the address given, the reference is fairly legitimate. However, discrepancies can also exist if the landlord sold the residence or if the tenant actually provided the property manager’s contact information.
#6: Cross Reference the Phone Numbers
Search the phone number you were provided. See if it matches up with the name of the reference. Or do it vice versa—search the landlord’s name and see if the same number pops up. Visit the landlord’s website or see if it matches the number advertised with the posting, if either exist. Some tenants may give you the landlord’s cell phone number, especially if the landlord only has a few rentals and isn’t in the business of property investment. If you find a different number advertised with the property listing, give that a call and find out why it’s different.
#7: Ask for Specific Info Only the Landlord Would Know
Go full-property-owner now. Ask for specifics on the property, like how many units are in the building, the square footage of the unit, what kind of amenities the unit offers, other idiosyncrasies, etc. Or, give inaccurate information about the unit’s details like the cost of rent, or if parking was included, and see how the reference responds—if they correct you or not. Also ask for landlord-specific advice, like handling late rent or inspections, and see if the reference is able to give legitimate tips.
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