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.
Greg Harris, CEO of Chas Everitt Property Rentals, notes that the rental property sector is being particularly hard-hit 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 levels scam artists will go to in order to gain access to your property.”
These swindlers have become unbelievably adapt 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,” explains Harris.
How do you select your tenants?
According to Harris this again highlights the importance of goingh through as detailed as possible a tenant selection process or risk making some very costly mistakes.
“In fact, landlords 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,” warns Harris.
Harris says that the tenant screening process should involve accessing tenant histories in addition to credit records. “This enables you 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.”
It’s also a good idea to partner with a trusted rental agent says Harris, as this can potentially save you a lot of trouble. “A reputable agent should have systems in place to weed out crooks; 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.”
For a private landlord with a day job it really comes down to a risk vs. cost consideration, at least until the market offers an alternative. Do you risk placing the wrong tenant and saving on agent commission, or do you pay agent commission and successfully place a good tenant?