How to do tenant background checks without having to hire a private investigator (PI).
Hiring a private investigator to perform background checks gets results but at a high cost.
Landlords often get frustrated by renting to what appears as nice, clean, responsible tenants only to discover the opposite. Avoid tenants always late with payments, destroys your property, leaves clutter everywhere, and never reports maintenance problems.
Several online private companies sell tenant background checks including criminal, evictions, and credit reports. But, they might not be accurate or reliable.
So, why not do tenant background checks yourself?
Here’s How to do Tenant Background Checks
Every private investigator performs online background checks. Why not? It’s free and often gets results.
Start with Google. That’s because anything done publicly in one’s life ends up chronicled on the internet. No other search engine comes close to Google search results.
Search Google using a potential tenant’s name to discover little known facts about the person’s life. But, you must be very specific with Google searches. Typing in a name without the city or state brings up hundreds of people with similar names scatted all over the country.
Use the quotation “ “ symbols to narrow the Google search. If you only type in Robert Jones with no quotation symbols the search gives you anything containing the name “Robert” and anything about “Jones”.
So, type in the full name, city, and state using quotation “ “ symbols before and after. This limits the search parameters to a specific name. For instance: “Steven Rich, San Diego, California”.
Your Google search might turn up newspaper stories, mentions in events, lawsuits, arrests, etc. In the search for Steven Rich in San Diego, you’ll see several people named Steven Rich in San Diego. Including a lawyer, and two persons (age 45 and 60), and a technician.
Several sites offer a complete address, phone number, and background checks costing much lower than what a P.I. charges.
But, if you type “Steven Rich, MBA” San Diego, California you’ll get better results. All 10 search results on the first page of Google show the right “Steven Rich, MBA”.
So many people put out their personal information using social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Landlords find useful information about potential tenants here.
An example of useful information found in social media channels includes a real-life situation. A landlord researched a couple applying to rent an apartment not allowing pets. Yet, their Facebook page showed them posing with a new puppy and showing photos of a family of pet dogs. Very useful information.
Search social media networks to find information about applicants’ current living situation, if they complain a lot, roommates, and work.
Another useful source found in their mutual friends which you contact to get their opinions. But, this works better in small communities than in a large city.
Get Eviction Records
Finding out about an applicant’s past evictions helps with your decision not to rent. Also, if they lie on their application form claiming no evictions.
The Superior Courts of California maintain online portals to access court records in every county. This includes eviction court cases.
The San Diego Superior Courts portal explains how to access court case files. Almost every case file is a public record including evictions. Only a few exceptions for sealed and confidential court proceedings exist.
To find out how to access eviction court case files in San Diego, Click Here.
Get the Tenant’s Credit Report
California law allows landlords to get a credit report from a credit bureau about a prospective tenant. The three credit bureaus include:
The credit report reveals if the prospect filed for bankruptcy or was subject to an eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit. Landlords pay a fee to the credit bureau for every report.
A private Tenant Screening Service company also looks for the prospects rent payment history or if ever reported for damaging property and if received good reviews from past landlords. The fees vary for these services.
Other Ways to Check Out Prospective Tenants
Besides hiring a PI or tenant screening service or doing online research, traditional ways to check out prospective tenants exist.
When renting a home, an applicant’s current home situation gives you valuable insights. Drive-by their current home to see whether its “curb appeal” shows care, maintenance, and pride in their home. Or, it may reveal clutter, poor maintenance, and an “I don’t care” attitude.
Also, make an excuse to visit them in their current home to see what it looks like inside. Bring them some legal text or your rules for renters to explain them.
It shows how much care (or lack of) they take about the interior and exterior (back yard) of their home. You don’t want to rent to slobs.
Pay attention to the smells inside the home. It tells you if they smoke, have pets, and if mold lingers inside.
Meet Them at the Curb
When expecting new applicants to visit your rental wait for them at the curb. The condition of their car inside and out tell you a lot about their cleanliness and maintenance.
A dirty exterior and cluttered interior of their car tell you a lot about the future condition of your rental with them.
A car in need of exterior repairs resulting from collisions or rust tells you they can’t afford to pay for bodywork.
Point out the dents and ask what happened? Their story tells you how old the dents are and if more than a year they didn’t spend their tax return fixing it. You should worry about getting the rent paid promptly and fully.
Listen to Their Concerns
Prospective tenants’ concerns tell you a lot about them.
Rushing to move in? Ask why. Their story may tell you of a looming eviction.
They’re concerned that your house isn’t worth the rent you’re asking? It’s usually not about the house, but rather they worry about paying the rent. Get their financials to see if they can pay the rent.
So, they like to complain a lot? Do you want to rent to constant complainers?
If they insist on always paying with cash or online, question their source of income. You don’t want to rent to criminals. But, maybe they work a telecommuting job (online researcher, writer, or medical billing) where using PayPal works better for them.
If their concerns include “snoopy” neighbors, maybe they do things they don’t want discovering?
You get good information with online searches, drive byes, and home visits. Also, get involved and pay attention to what they say. Using your intuitions and senses pays dividends.
Don’t Answer Their Call
Let your answering machine or Google Voice make applicants leave you a voice message. Do this on their first call.
Listen for background sounds like dogs barking, howling cats, or arguments. Listen to their choice of words.
For instance, an applicant who swears a lot or a couple quarreling may give you the impression they may become destructive to your house.
How to do tenant background checks yourself involves:
- Online research (Google and social media channels);
- Getting eviction records;
- Obtaining credit reports;
- Doing drive-byes;
- Meeting prospects at your curb;
- Listening to their concerns; and
- Listening to their voices when you miss their call.
Another option includes hiring someone to do background checks like:
- Hiring a private investigator; and
- Hiring a tenant screening company,
Hire a Property Management Company
Hiring a professional property management company allows you to get all the above-mentioned services. Plus, you save time by:
- Letting a professional do everything to find good tenants;
- Collect deposits and rents;
- Inspect your rentals;
- Deal with tenant problems;
- Evict them (if necessary); and
- Dealing with your rentals when tenants move out.
WeLease provides landlords with all these services in the greater San Diego area.
Contact Us to see how we save you time and money by handling the entire rental process for you.
Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger
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