Avoiding Scam Artists: Tenants Who Tell a Story

It’s not every day that you imagine the landlord as a victim, but it can and does happen all the time.  Find out how a prospective tenant can take advantage of you and ways to prevent it.

We want to see the best in everybody.  Often we go out of our way to help others.  In some cases it’s as simple as opening the door for somebody with their hands full, or you may on rare occasions lend somebody $20 not expecting anything in return.  Things that contribute to this behavior are social norms for people to be “nice” to one another.  One of the realities about human behavior is that we are “wired” to closely follow social norms.  It can be very hard to deviate from social norms as this causes significant stress.  Psychologically speaking, not following a particular social norm can internally feel like you’re putting yourself outside of that society.  So we generally avoid breaking social norms.  In a twisted way, this can be used by criminals to get people to be overly trusting and helpful only to later be scammed.

When finding a place to rent, criminals will try a great number of techniques to pressure you into trusting before verifying.  Starting out, they’ll tell the landlord that they are in a big hurry of some kind to rent into an apartment.  This will be at least a five minute sad story about the hard times they’ve had.  This helps to build in you a sense of urgency.  At the next stage they’ll compliment you on small things you do or say; affirming to you that you are a nice person.  The equation has been set (you’re a nice person) + (this guy needs help) + (social norm priming for helping behavior) = (you make the decision to help this person in some way).  You might even reason to yourself that this person requires special considerations because of the tough times they have been through despite having a strict screening policy.

The next stage is indeterminate in length.  You won’t be asked outright to rent to them without screening them unless they thought they have had you primed enough to do so.  Instead they’re going to feel you out, making smaller requests from you first and then building up from there.  When you make concessions for small requests, you’re more likely to make concessions to larger requests afterwards.  They might ask you if they can take the rental application home and bring it back to you at a later date, explaining that they don’t have all of their information with them.  This gives them the opportunity to forge information.  Or on the reverse side, they may have all of their “references” lined up and they’re hurrying you to make the calls right away without taking your time to do your research.  If three people confirm to you over the phone that the prospective tenant is good, you’ll have a hard time, in the moment, thinking critically about the situation.  You might overlook critical questions such as, “were the people I just spoke to really the previous landlord(s)?”

Other potentially problematic tenants will hide in plain sight.  The story, personal compliments, and plea for help may simply be to prime you to overlook the problem elements after you have screened them.  Let’s say you screen them right on the spot and the report comes back with some criminal hits and credit issues.  Now that you’ve spent so much time talking with the tenant, they may just be able to explain away the bad report.  They’ll ask you to just “hear them out.”  The more time that you spend listening to their story, the more likely you are to lease to them.  Psychologically, the more time you spend interacting with something/someone, the more likely it is that you’re going to have a liking for that entity.

The best way to avoid a scam artist is not to give them the opportunity to talk you into the scam in the first place.  Screening a tenant is a very simple process.  You set standard criteria by which you are going to screen your tenants, you gather the appropriate information from the tenant, run the screening report, and then you make a decision to lease to the individual based on whether or not they have met the criteria.  That’s all there is to it.  When they tell you a sad story, simply explain to the tenant that the property management company has a procedure it has to follow to ensure a great community of residents and wish them the best of luck in their apartment search.



** Always be sure to follow all proper procedures when handling a tenant.  Please be sure that any metric you use in review of an application must be applied to all applications to rent.  A comprehensive view of F.C.R.A. law and procedures can be found here.  Also be sure to follow all fair housing laws and not to discriminate based on race, gender, minority group, etc.  Please also observe local ordinances, which may supersede some federal laws. **

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