Rental Application Legibility: Is that a “6″ or a “0″?
A common issue landlords often run into is a hastily scribbled rental application. We hear about scenarios where prospective tenants rush to fill out the forms, they may have poor handwriting as it is, or they may have a roommate or significant other fill out the form in their place. Then the landlord tries to read the application several days later, without the tenant present, and that’s when the guessing begins. Is that a “0” or a“6”? A “u” or an “r”? These seemingly minor details are actually incredibly important when you are performing a background check on a perspective tenant.
Several identifiers weigh heavily when running a tenant screening report. First, the applicant’s social security number is vital if you plan to check their credit. There are thousands of individuals with common names and even common birthdays, thus the SSN is the unique factor that helps credit bureaus identify your specific applicant. By mistyping the SSN, you risk paying your screening provider for an inaccurate report.
Second, a correct spelling of the full legal name and date of birth is necessary for any eviction or criminal searches. Most public records databases have removed SSNs from their files. So screening providers use the name and DOB identifiers to narrow down their search. Thus, a criminal record for “Katherine Johnson, born 3/10/1983” may not come up if the landlord inputs “Kathy Johnsen, born 3/16/1988”.
Please be careful not to assume that you can alter input data once you run a background check. In many cases you may have to pay additional charges or you risk ‘hitting’ your applicant’s credit multiple times, which may negatively impact their score.
We recommend the following best practices:
- Get a copy of a government-issued ID. This is a great way to confirm spelling. (Afterwards, make sure to either shred the copy or lock it up in a safe place.)
- Explain that providing inaccurate information will require you to rerun the background check on their dollar.
- Double-check all pertinent information verbally with the applicant, either in person or via phone.
Most tenants who actually want to rent your apartment will do whatever it takes to speed up the approval process. They will understand the importance of writing neatly and verifying their data. As a landlord, please avoid rushing a background check on any applicant until you have fully confirmed their personal information.
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