Friday, February 2, 2018
Over the past few years Rental Services, Inc. has noticed more companies transitioning to the use of applicant tracking software, also known as property management software. These software products handle the general bookkeeping and keep track of a resident through the complete rental cycle. Many of these software platforms have an additional option that provides automated tenant screening services for an extra fee. RSI has also noticed these companies using an instant nationwide criminal report. I’m writing to clarify why the automated tenant screening provided with this type of software and the nationwide criminal records are an inferior product compared to the reports provided by Rental Services, Inc. and why using them is not in your company’s best interest.
Let’s start off by looking at Eviction records, they tell you a lot about a perspective renter. The first eviction can be traumatic for the renter. The second eviction doesn’t hold the same mystery. It’s like watching a scary movie and then watching it again, the movie will never be as scary the second time around. This same principle applies to evictions. Automated screening will often not include this search; if it is included the software doesn’t verify the eviction record! This means you’re left with a name and address match. Are you going to verify the eviction? If it’s a false positive and you report the record, are you willing to take on the financial liability? At RSI we verify all eviction records by matching the applicant’s social security number with the source of the eviction record. We also develop for each applicant, a list of addresses that we investigate to locate even more possible eviction records. You won’t get that with an automated service.
Most of these add-on screening products provide a nationwide criminal report. Nationwide criminal reports are full of holes and have little to no coverage in certain states like Colorado. The records for Colorado that are sometimes contained in a nationwide criminal report come from the Colorado Department of Corrections. This data contains offenders currently incarcerated, involved in community corrections or patrolled under the supervision of the Colorado Department of Corrections. All this information is only provided on criminals currently under the supervision of the Colorado Department of Corrections. RSI has several clients who have tried this information in the past and have experienced significant issues with missing criminal records. RSI has even had past clients tell us they moved in registered sex-offenders and that’s why they were returning to RSI.
At Rental Services, Inc. we access Colorado criminal records through the Colorado Courts. The information is accessed in real time from all county and district level courts in Colorado. Access to the Colorado Courts provides conviction information on criminals currently incarcerated, paroled, serving probation or have completed all requirements and are no longer under the supervision of law enforcement. Trained RSI Investigators review all criminal records for accuracy. If the applicant is from another state besides Colorado, don’t worry, RSI has access to criminal records from all 50 states.
Criminal reports are not a one size fits all product. Based on your geographic location RSI might suggest using a national, state or county criminal product. This is why you need a company that can be easily contacted and is available to discuss your specific needs.
Most property management software offers online rental applications as an additional service. This can be a great tool, that’s why RSI has offered this service for years. The RSI Quick App allows tenants to submit rental applications and authorize credit & background checks all online. Do you need them to submit a photo ID or pay stub? The RSI Quick App allows applicants to upload documents. The RSI Quick App can be set up to collect application fees and even generate a copy of your company’s lease agreement.
While reviewing different property management software I’ve noticed that the tenant screening add-on feature never provides verification phone calls. Making sure your prospective tenant has verifiable income and employment. This information is important in making an informed rental decision. You want to make sure the applicant has a reliable source of income and that source of income is from a legal endeavor. Moving a drug dealer in to your property probably isn’t a promising idea. Calling a rental reference is the most important verification call you can make. A rental reference can give details of the payment habits, care of the property, complaints and even pest problems. Automated screening lacks the ability to inform you that your prospective applicant was moving because of a bed bug infestation! Verification calls are the backbone of a full-service background verification company like Rental Services.
RSI works with several clients that use property management software. Based on each individual client, we have provided customized screening option. RSI provides over 34 years of credit reporting, background screening and information services experience. When you have a question about a report, we have the answer. Don’t expect that when you contact a management software call center.
If you would like to discuss options to your services, please contact the RSI office at 303-420-1212 or 800-628-6414.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Are you aware of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act? You should if you’re a client of Rental Services, Inc. or you access personally identifiable information as part of a resident screening report. We’ve posted a copy of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act on the RSI website and we recommend taking a moment to review the complete document.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
There are a growing number of online options available to individuals looking for background information. The increasing accessibility of online background screening has fostered the misconception that these checks are easier and cheaper than ever before…and that the information available through an automated platform is of the same quality as that obtained through a qualified credit or background investigator.
We live in a society accustomed to having a wealth of information at our fingertips. The internet is an endless resource for FREE information! However, the plethora of public data does not necessarily make it any easier to generate quality screening information. This is the first problem with online person search products: shockingly poor quality.
Online companies are not able to adequately cross-reference for accuracy. The human element is missing, and in that void lays the essential key to quality screening. An inaccurate address could lead to a complete dead-end, or worse, information on someone who is not actually the person you are searching. There may be a thousand John Smiths with the same birthday. In order to verify that you have the correct information for your John Smith, a multitude of other personal information needs to be cross-referenced. A person who is trained as an investigator is able to determine when there are inaccuracies or missing data. An automated program is not capable of completing the same screening report as a qualified investigator.
Poor quality is not, however, the biggest problem with online sourced background checks. The most concerning issue is, perhaps, the least obvious to the average person. Most people are not aware that you are not legally able to use the information provided through these online companies, and in some cases, not even legally able to search for that information.
FCRA regulations stipulate that only credit reporting agencies should provide information to be used as a determining factor in employment eligibility, tenancy, personal credit, loans or insurance transactions. Online person search sites such as PeopleFinder.com, Intelius.com, and InstantCheckmate.com are not credit reporting agencies and are not, therefore, providing background information that can be used as a determining factor in any of the above circumstances.
Furthermore, it is important to be aware that federal, state and local statues govern the regulations and licensure required to conduct background screening. Online background companies have waivers stating that you are responsible for following these regulations and not requesting any information that would be illegal to obtain without the required license or authorization. This means that depending upon where you are located, and where the individual you are searching resides, you may be breaking the law by accessing background information even though it is available to you for purchase through this online companies.
After close examination of background screening options, the choice is easy. You can pay for bad information, you can be liable for obtaining, and are not legally able to use…or you can hire a qualified investigation company and obtain high quality, legitimate information which you can use as a determining factor when it comes to protecting your business or personal assets.
For more information on screening options, visit our website at www.eRentalServicesInc.com
Bosco Legal Services, Inc. website publications were used as a resource for writing this article.
Monday, November 17, 2014
It can be a daunting or uncertain task…assessing deductions to a renter’s security deposit. There are security deposit laws specific to each state, so you should check the rules and regulations that pertain to your specific location. In most states, you cannot charge your resident for normal wear and tear, but are able to cover your expenses for damages caused by the resident.
This list contains examples of what would qualify as normal wear and tear, which you, as the property owner, are financially liable to repair:
- Faded curtains, carpet, wallpaper or paint due to age or sunlight
- Wear on rugs/carpet (especially in high-traffic areas) due to normal use
- Minor scuffs on floors or trim
- Broken plumbing as a result of daily use
- Broken appliances that are not the result of misuse
- Warped doors and windows caused by moisture, temperature or age
- Small nicks on walls (especially in corners)
- A reasonable amount of holes in the walls due to the hanging of pictures
- Broken seals on doors or windows
- Mold or mildew mitigation (if not due to negligence of resident)
- Replacement of batteries or bulbs for lights and smoke detectors
This list contains examples of what would qualify as damage to the property, which the resident could be financially liable to repair:
- Stains on the curtains or walls that were not previously present
- Ripped, stained or frayed carpets/rugs
- Major scratches or gouges to floors or trim
- Broken or cracked tile
- Clogged drains and toilets due to misuse
- Broken appliances, plumbing or fixtures that are the result of misuse
- Broken doors or windows, including torn or missing screens, blinds, locks and hardware
- Damaged drywall, including excessive holes from hanging pictures
- Broken shelving or cabinetry
- Extermination of fleas or pests
- Cleaning of excessive filth, trash, mildew or mold
- Unauthorized tenant alterations to rental
- Loss income during rental repairs (within reason)
- Depreciated value of the property due to destruction
Back-owed rent, fees or unpaid bills may also be deducted from the security deposit.
Your resident may also be financially responsible for failing to report issues that result in damage to the property. In order to avoid at least partial responsibility for these issues, however, the landlord must have conducted reasonable inspections during the occupancy.
It is important to remember that you need to notify the resident of exactly which items were damaged or needing repair. Provide your renter with a clear list of repairs and even a copy of any receipts. A sample checklist which itemizes conditions upon occupancy and departure from the property, can be found through the following link: Tenant Move In Move Out Inspection
Offer to inspect the unit a few weeks before move-out so that the renter can have the opportunity to repair some of the damage themselves. This can save you some time and effort though a second inspection to confirm completion and quality of work, plus verification that there has been no further damage, is highly advisable.
When calculating the resident’s financial responsibility for repairs bear in mind these two key points:
- It is not legal to charge your residents for upgrades to the property.
- Assess damages with an understanding for depreciation in value
It is important to take into consideration the quality, age and prior condition of the damaged item and then calculate the resident’s financial responsibility based on that data. For example, if a rental unit had a new laminate counter in the kitchen and at the final inspection it was discovered that the surface was marred by a large burn, then the resident would be responsible for the entire cost of replacement. (The item was new at move-in and destroyed at move-out.) The landlord could upgrade to a marble countertop but could only charge the resident for what would have been the cost of replacing the laminate counter.
In order to calculate fees when depreciation is a factor, consider this example: Upon final inspection it was discovered that there was irreparable damage to the carpet. The carpet was of a quality manufactured to have a lifespan of 10 years and was 6 years old at the time of occupancy. The resident is responsible for paying 40% of the replaced carpet expense (which is the percentage equal to the remaining expected lifespan). The replaced carpet value would need to be calculated based on carpet of equal quality to the carpet that was present at occupancy.
If you are not sure what a fair value is for a specific repair, consult with an experienced contractor.
This article is intended as a starting point to help guide you toward a fair and honest assessment of security deposit deductions. There are specific laws in place for each state, and these should be researched before any deductions are applied.
For more rental property information refer to our website: www.eRentalServicesInc.com
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
The Justice Department recently announced that a settlement was reached with the owners and operators of an apartment community in
The lawsuit challenged a policy upheld by the complex which prohibited children from playing outside in the common grassy areas. It was argued through this litigation, that the actions of the defendants constituted a pattern or practice of discrimination against families with children residing on the property.
Complaints were filed with the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development by 5 families who claimed to be negatively impacted by the apartment policy. HUD investigated allegations and then issued a charge of discrimination against those responsible for initiating and maintaining the policy.
“Federal law guarantees families with children the right to equal access to housing, including full access to their homes’ amenities and facilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “Settlements such as this one help ensure that all families can enjoy that right.”
The defendants will pay $77,500 to the victims of their discrimination, and $2,500 to the government as a civil penalty. Additionally, they will be required to implement a nondiscrimination policy, establish new enforcement procedures for rule violations and undergo training on the Fair Housing Act.
As a property owner, is important that you are familiar with the laws surrounding the rental industry. Please refer to our website (www.eRentalServicesInc.com) or contact our office in order to obtain more information on best practice for resident screening and how to stay in compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act.
Source: United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs; http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/July/14-crt-785.html
Friday, October 3, 2014
Guidelines put into effect in 2012 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have recently come under heavy scrutiny in front of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.
The guidelines are supposed to safeguard employees from workplace discrimination, however, many argue that they are doing a great disservice to employers. Not only has there been significant uncertainty about what is considered to be justified pre-employment screening, but employers are now caught between two bleak options. They either risk EEOC violations by thoroughly screening potential employees, or limit their screening and increase the risk for employing a criminal. Either may have devastating results for their company.
Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., has said that these guidelines not only hinder the employer but could have a negative impact on the overall community: “In certain occupations, a background check of prospective employees is critical to public safety.” These concerns are especially apparent when hiring employees that will be entering private residences or working with children.
Additional complaints were voiced concerning inconsistencies in the EEOC’s approach to investigation and enforcement of discrimination allegations. This seems to be exemplified by recent losses during court cases where the EEOC has challenged an employer’s use of background screening.
Though nothing in the 2012 guidelines prevents employers from conducting criminal records screening during pre-employment, they are supposed to distinguish instances where such screening is appropriate. Unfortunately, confusion and uncertainty are marring the outlined path and have created an unstable foundation for business looking to hire responsibly.
To follow this topic and access other useful screening resources, visit: www.eRentalServicesInc.com
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
In February of last year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a Discriminatory Effects Final Rule to formalize a national standard for determining Fair Housing violations.
“Through the issuance of this Rule, HUD is reaffirming its commitment to enforcing the Fair Housing Act in a consistent and uniform manner,” said HUD secretary Shaun Donovan. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing practices that result in disparate impact on a group of persons because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.
The practice of running criminal background checks on potential tenants may now be prohibited under the Discriminatory Effects Standard Final Rule.
Many in the rental housing industry have expressed serious concern over the final rule, specifically, the limitations placed on tenant screening. Criminal background checks provide some level of assurance that measures are being taken to uphold resident safety and viability. By restricting a property owner’s right to screen an applicant’s criminal history, this new rule would seem to dramatically increase the property owner’s risk for liability.
A property owner can be held liable for crimes committed by their tenants as criminal activity has a negative impact on the other residents and the surrounding community. The best way to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity and to convince a judge, if necessary, that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent such activity, is to perform a thorough background check on all potential residents prior to their moving into the community.
It presents a large problem for property owners if they are not allowed to perform criminal background checks and are then held liable for a resident’s criminal activity.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing, Bryan Greene, has stated that HUD is working on outlining additional guidance for impacted industries. Operating guidelines could be released as early as this summer and would more clearly define what qualifies as “unjustified” discrimination, including information pertaining to criminal background screening.
Visit www.erentalservicesinc.com for more information as it becomes available.