Refugee or Bad Tenant?
October 1, 2005
Rule number one: the only times a landlord gets into trouble is when he is in a hurry or feels sorry for somebody.
Many landlords in areas that have accepted refugees from Hurricane Katrina are jumping up and down for joy because of the influx of new tenants. In fact in the Houston area the vacancy rate went from 14 percent before the influx to 6 percent after the refugee immigration. Other areas with refugee influxes have similar results. Great for landlords, huh? Yes and no.
Considering the fact that 95 percent of tenants are good tenants, landlords have only a 5 percent chance of having a bad tenant move in to their properties. But many landlords may be letting sympathy get in the way of good judgment.
Consider this. Law enforcement background checks in Utah, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Illinois have found the incidence of outstanding warrants, misdemeanor convictions and felony arrests is significant among the refugees from New Orleans. One of the problems is that much public-records data was lost in the flooding of New Orleans and so is not accessible.
Michael Wenger, owner of TenantSafe Online Resident Screening. www.screentenants.com, passes along the information that the following county courthouses in Texas are closed until further notice due to Hurricane Rita: Calhoun, Chambers, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, Orange, and Tyler. Many background investigation services are unavailable in the following jurisdictions of Louisiana: Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Vermilion, and Vernon. Background investigation services are unavailable in the following jurisdictions of Mississippi: Hancock and Jackson.
A landlord who feels sorry for an applicant might think that he or she is doing a good deed by renting to an applicant whose public and criminal records cannot be located or verified. That would be a good deed for whom? Certainly it is not one for the other tenants renting from the landlord or the neighborhood where the property is situated.
We owe it to our investments and our other customers to ensure that everyone we rent to deserves to live in our properties. Why would the fact that a tenant has been made homeless by a natural disaster, but has a history of being a bad tenant or is a criminal, excuse a history of bad behavior?
Bad tenants do not change their attitude toward themselves, the place they live, their financial obligations or their landlords simply because they have moved, either by choice or because of circumstances beyond their control. In fact some bad tenants may see an influx of hurricane victims as the perfect opportunity to get a landlord to rent from them. They might never have lived anywhere but your city, but suddenly they’re “from New Orleans.”
Can’t you just see the wheels turning in their sleazy heads now? “Gee, if I say I just moved here from New Orleans because I got flooded out, and say I lost all my identification in the floods, the landlord will feel sorry for me and let me move in.”
We can’t check picture ID because “it got lost in the flood.” We can’t verify landlord references because “the landlord got flooded out, too.” We can’t verify former employers because “the company got flooded out.”
Fortunately there are still credit reports and “social searches.” The credit report will tell if people paid their bills, where they lived, whom they worked for. The Social Searches will give every address where they have lived in the past 10 years. Neither of those reports was “lost in the flood.”
We should indeed need to have empathy for the people displaced by natural disasters, but we should never forego our normal screening procedures and allow a bad tenant to slither into our rental property.