Above All Else, Know Thine Applicant

Multifamily operations are ever-changing.  From new amenities, to marketing methods, and new ways for applicants to work the system, what are the best practices for verifying the identity of applicants?

Many years ago, a credit and criminal background check was all a community needed to lease an apartment to an applicant.  Today though, leasing teams must concern themselves with knowing if the person they are leasing to is who they claim to be.  Validating identity is a time-consuming process, but it saves literally thousands of dollars in bad debt for each applicant.  The key to applicant screening is knowing the applicant very well.  While online leasing has made the process more convenient, with convenience comes responsibility and the best way to prevent fraud is to know who you are dealing with extremely well.  If you don’t already have written guidelines, develop policies around what proof of income is required depending on the circumstances of the applicant, i.e. currently employed, switching jobs, unemployed, and self-employed.  ApproveShield recommends, for all applicants, a physical on-site review of the driver’s license and the social security card of the applicant so that their authenticity can be validated.  Don’t accept scans of documents unless you have advanced tools that allow verification of the information provided on the identifying documents as these items can be photo-shopped easily.

Examples of good items that can validate identity are:

  • Driver License
  • State Issued Identification Card
  • Passport
  • Current Utility bill if currently leasing another apartment (this can be used to contact the office of another apartment complex to corroborate identity, otherwise it is not helpful)

Examples of identity documents to avoid because they don’t prove identity:

  • Social Security Cards (these are important to review in person to make sure they are real prior to screening, however they do not verify identity. A SS card verifies the number is legitimate not that the holder is who they say they are.)
  • Anything that doesn’t include a photo
  • Library cards
  • School issued ID cards
  • Birth certificate (this only proves birth, it does not prove the SSN)
  • Employee ID

Online leasing is a wonderful method to facilitate the leasing process, however it can be problematic when the on-site team is not diligent in validating the identity of the individual applying for the apartment.  Of particular concern is Synthetic Identity Fraud where an applicant may provide a Social Security Number (SSN) that does not belong to them and therefore their credit report looks much better than the report that would be pulled using the SSN provided to them at birth.  ApproveShield finds that applicants using a synthetic identity are significantly more likely to have a history of previous rental debt or eviction than a standard applicant.

Even ten years ago it was enough to screen an applicant to understand if they could afford the apartment, weren’t a danger to other residents, and had good credit.  In today’s leasing environment it’s a different story, where it’s important to first identify if the applicant is even who they say they are to protect your asset from losing thousands of dollars in lost rent, bad debt, and turn costs.  ApproveShield helps prevent thousands of dollars in losses every day for communities across the United States – to see if we might be a good fit to help your community call us at 972-559-4730 or email us at [email protected].

Damon McCall is the founder of Dallas based ApproveShield, a provider of specialty eviction data and full-service tenant screening services.  Prior to forming ApproveShield, Damon oversaw the day to day operations of multifamily communities throughout the Southeastern US, which gave him unique insight into the resident screening needs of multifamily real-estate operators and owners.  This operational insight was the basis for the ApproveShield platform, which has become an invaluable fraud and bad debt mitigation tool for management companies through the country.  Damon received his B.S. in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington.