The Silly Season

What to look out for when you are screening applicants during the Winter months!

by Marcia Gohman – Head of the tenant screening company, NTN-Northwest

Greetings! I’m sending out this note because the “Silly Season” has kicked off EARLY!! In normal times we see maybe two or three sex offenders in a month. Today I encountered my FIFTH one for this week!! It’s crazy!

Be sure you have written screening criteria, and make the applicants sign it. You can be fined if you fail to give the applicant written screening criteria. Criteria helps the applicants to know that you will be checking all of their information carefully.

Now, back to our regular “Silly Season”…

Trying to rent your place any time between Thanksgiving and the New Year? Be very careful! This is the time of year that we call, “The Silly Season”. If you think about it, who would want to move this close to Christmas? Nobody in their right mind! That’s who! Many of us already have Christmas Decorations up; we have purchased a tree or lights and other assorted decor for our homes, front porches, and lawns.

So why would someone be moving this time of year? Because they HAVE to!

Typically the applications we see from December to January 1st have the most inventive information and the most interesting Criminal reports we see all year. 

  • On one application under “Why are you moving”

“Just got out of the Canadian Navy”.. Canada has a Navy, but he was just released from prison in Washington. That’s close, right? 

  • On another application the applicant listed her name, then we noticed a different last name in her email address and that she signed it with a slightly different name..
  • The applicant warned the landlord that there was “This one little thing” on her criminal report. Two Pages of little things. Apparently they all blend together.

So what do we do? We take things very slowly. Pay more attention to how the application is filled out, check picture ID more carefully, and ask for a recent pay stub. If the applicant is in a BIG Hurry, you tell them it will take you five days to complete your verification process.

And no matter how tempting, remember that almost everyone who offers to pay you six months’ rent in advance is a recreational pharmaceutical salesperson. (Drug Dealer)

Verify all telephone numbers. Just today I have found that one phone number was a family member, and one was to a friend who runs a storage facility. The applicant listed that she lived in #6. How did I find that? Google Earth. It’s a great tool for landlords! Plug in the address and see what comes up! 

Does it appear to be an apartment community? A house? Or is it a strip mall or office complex? 
If you are given what appears to be a single-family residence address, you can find the county tax assessor and get the owner’s name and address. Many counties have a Tax Assessor web site where you can enter the address and find the owner. You still have to find the phone number; use or which might be even better, and I’m considering using them more than the other options.

You can also just Google the phone number.

If the applicant gives you a number for his/her employer, you can internet search it and see if the number belongs to the company or is a friend’s cell phone number. After searching up the company info I call them directly rather than the number provided. Many employers also have an email for HR on their web site.

One of my favorite tricks, when I know I’m going to talk to a friend or family member, is to call and ask about the rental I heard they have. The family member automatically says, “What?!? We don’t have rentals!”, and bingo. You have verified a fib on the application.

I know, I know. This sounds like a LOT of extra work. But it will pay off in the end. You don’t want to start out your New Year looking for lawyers, or stuck with a bad tenant, because you didn’t verify that “One little Thing”..

There are good people moving, so don’t lose hope. Yes, we have all the COVID stuff, and we’re still working with people displaced from the fires last year. Just be careful and take things slowly.

Once we get to January the company transfers go out and the better applicants re-appear. Until then, just remember. ‘Tis the Season!!

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