6 Easy Ways to Instantly Spot Fake Landlord References

6 Easy Ways to Instantly Spot Fake Landlord References

Last Updated: January 5, 2023 by Cameron Smith

Some unqualified rental applicants will try to pass off fake landlord references in order to secure the lease. Landlords can learn to spot these quickly and easily with a few simple strategies.

Why Should Landlords Check With Prior Landlords?

Putting together an extensive rental history will give a solid indication if the applicant has been a good tenant. After all, who would know better than someone who has rented to them before?

Generally, rental history consists of:

  • Late or missed payments
  • Evictions
  • History of damaged property
  • Vacating property early
  • Vacating without notice
  • Communication style
  • Rule following
  • Smoking

Most of these points can only be discovered by talking with a previous landlord. The exceptions are that you can pull eviction records, and you can see missed payments on a credit report.

Late payments may or may not show up on a credit report, as they can only be reported after being 30 days overdue. Even then, some landlords won’t take the effort to report it.

As a landlord, you definitely want to know if the tenant made their payments without any drama, didn’t destroy property, stayed until the end of their lease, was respectful and helpful in communication, and didn’t break any of your lease rules.

However, a landlord can deny a rental applicant for most things that will come up while putting together rental history. If an applicant knows that they have a spotty rental history, they may try to game the system by putting a fake landlord reference on their application.

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6 Ways to Avoid Fake Landlord References

It may be difficult to avoid fake landlord references in all cases, but by following a few strategies you can usually avoid them. Here’s how:

  1. Ask an off-kilter question – A fake reference will be prepped by the applicant to answer very specific things. So, first ask the reference “do you have any vacancies?” This is a question that a real landlord gets all the time and can get you the information. A fake landlord will likely be thrown off. It isn’t foolproof, but a poor response to this question can let you know to put your guard up.
  2. Verify the number online – Before you call the number given to you by the applicant, do a quick search online. Google the previous address listed on the application and see if you can find a number for a landlord. If it doesn’t match an online listing for the property, that’s a red flag. Also, you could do a search for the phone number itself, and see who it matches to. Searching for “(phone number) + rental property” might give you the information you need.
  3. Ask for specifics – Ask for information such as specific dates the applicant rented there, how much of the deposit did they get back, were they good at mowing the lawn, etc. A fake reference will likely be prepped, but the more specifics you ask, the more likely you are to stumble across a question the fake won’t know. Asking a lot of less-than-relevant questions might be annoying, so perhaps reserve this strategy if you’re already suspecting a fake.
  4. Ask for property information a landlord would know – Ask for square footage of the property, what type of property it is, or even something like “oh, is that over by the Wendy’s?” That could certainly throw off a fake landlord reference if they don’t know exactly where the property is.
  5. Research property tax records – Property ownership is public record, however, there are many instances where this wouldn’t work. For example, a landlord is often not the same person as the owner. Also, the owner may have sold the property in the intervening time period.
  6. Judge the responses – Lastly, it’s important to listen and follow your intuition. If you get a lot of vague or overly positive responses, you might have a fake on your hands.

In general, a real landlord will be more professional, straightforward, and factual. A fake landlord will likely go out of their way to praise the applicant and provide more information than you asked for (all positive, of course).

How to Avoid Applicants Giving Fake References

First and foremost, be specific on your application about your screening process. For example, put on the application that you will:

  1. Call all former landlords from the past 5 years.
  2. Cross-verify all information 2-3 different ways.

That should keep many people who might otherwise supply a fake applicant from even applying in the first place.

Also, be sure to let them know that you will order thorough reports that include credit checks, eviction history, and criminal backgrounds. This could also scare off applicants knowing that you’ll likely find out their poor rental history whether they fake a landlord reference or not.

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How to Handle Fake References

Of course, landlords should reject applicants that lie anywhere on an application.

Furthermore, if any current tenant is found to have used a fake landlord reference during the screening process, that is grounds for eviction.

The person who is faking the reference can also potentially get into trouble with the law. Posing as someone else and providing important information can be grounds for fraud.

However, in most places, this either isn’t a criminal act, or wouldn’t get enough attention to warrant a criminal charge. Likely the only outcome that would result in legal action would be a situation where the tenant damages the property. In that case, the landlord could file a civil suit against the fake reference because it was partly their information that led to the landlord picking that applicant.

In fact, landlords could put a disclaimer on the application that anyone found posing as a fake reference will be brought up on charges. Whether that’s actually the case or not, most applicants will likely not want to risk a friend of theirs getting in trouble for helping them out.