With each prospective tenant comes the question of “trick or treat”. A professional rent jumper is a tenant who rents a property for the sole purpose of scamming the landlord. The objective can be to live rent free as long as they can, or to file frivolous lawsuits in lieu of making an honest living. This person knows how to work the system and will use every avenue to their advantage. Once a tenant like this moves in, they know how to make your life a living hell.
They will find any reason not to pay rent. They will make excuses for non-payment like the sudden death of a family member or sudden loss of income. They will make promises of payment that they have no intent on fulfilling, and hand you one sob story after another. This behavior starts early in the rental term. They will move in and pay maybe one or two month’s rent.
Then they will serve you with a laundry list of repairs and problems that need your immediate attention. If you don’t respond to their liking, they will call every code enforcement and tenant advocate agency that they can find and attempt to smear your name. Whatever repairs you do make, will probably never be to their satisfaction, and when they are, there will always be another complaint following. The professional rent jumper will make sure you are taken for a long and very expensive ride. You will discover too late that you are trapped in a landlord’s worst nightmare. Even if the situation does not end in a lawsuit, a complicated and expensive eviction can be just as bad or worse.
So, how do you protect yourself from these predators? The best way is to go through background and credit checks. The credit report will show past addresses, civil law suits, judgments, legal filings and dismissals, and accounts in collections. Pay close attention to accounts in collections. There could be indications that the tenant is in the habit of writing bad checks.
Always make sure you have a well-designed rental application. Check all references, especially previous landlords, not just their current landlord who may be inclined to give a good reference just to get rid of the tenant. Members can obtain a free application here:
Take a trip to your local housing court. If this person makes a living suing landlords, chances are they’ve been in court more than once.
The best offense is always a good defense. Pre-screen as thoroughly as you can without violating any Fair Housing Laws.
For more information on the topic of how to screen prospective tenants, see our article How to Choose the Right Tenant.
And, if you’re still not convinced that background checks are important, you should watch the movie Pacific Heights. Every landlord should watch this movie. Look for it on Netflix, Amazon Video on demand, or any other streaming video programs that you have. Or, you can click on the link below to order it from Amazon.