Letting your property to a tenant who has lied about their income, identity or rental history can become a nightmare.
South Africans are all very aware of violent crime and the efforts needed to reduce it, but so-called white-collar crime is just as rampant – and the crooks are getting smarter all the time.
So says Greg Harris, CEO of Chas Everitt Property Rentals, who notes that the rental property sector is being particularly hard-hit by at the moment by fraudsters determined to gain access to rental accommodation under false pretences. “When the economy is slow as it is at the moment, we always experience higher demand for rental accommodation because many people put off buying their own homes, while others are forced to sell their homes and rent instead.
“This is of course a positive for landlords. But there’s also a major negative in the current situation, and that is the level of dishonesty among prospective tenants about their finances, their credit records and their behaviour as tenants.”
What makes things even worse, he says, is how adept these swindlers have become at falsifying legal and identity documents, bank statements, references, employee information and pay slips. “We are coming across this now on a very frequent basis and are often only able to pick up the scam because we are able to cross-check the documents against the Tenant Profile Network (TPN) records and other sources of verified information.
“And we have realised this is another very important reason for landlords to appoint managing agents. Working on their own, landlords could easily be taken in by these well-forged documents, and led into making some very costly mistakes.
“In fact, they could even find their properties being occupied – or hijacked - by ‘tenants’ who not only have questionable credit records, but who also may not be who they claim to be or have no intention of ever paying any rent at all. This is a scary prospect as it is extremely difficult and costly to evict such crooks once you have handed over the keys.”
Access to the TPN records gives reputable managing agents such as Chas Everitt Property Rentals access to tenant histories in addition to credit records. “This enables us to eliminate prospective tenants who may very well have a good job and a clean credit record, but who also have a documented history of paying the rent late every month, or damaging the properties they have rented,” says Harris.
“In addition, we have systems in place to double check everything and weed out those who present bank statements, payslips and ID documents that have been tampered with or forged, or perhaps a glowing reference from a ‘former landlord’ even when they have never been a tenant before.
“We are also able to share information with other rental agencies so that it becomes increasingly difficult for bogus or delinquent tenants to gain access to any property that is managed by an agent. Individual landlords are seldom able to do any of this background work and are thus much more likely to be the targets as well as the victims of increasingly proficient con-artists.”