While asking potential tenants for references and credit reports, as well as having criminal background checks performed, is par for the course, they can be forged or otherwise circumvented, as one Toronto landlord recently found out.
A tenant named Mike Lemke had documents forged and friends acting as references—he even enlisted a legitimate real estate sales agent, who happened to be his friend, to represent him—to move into a high-end Liberty Village condo rental. Having experience exploiting the system, he stopped paying rent and refused to move out.
Steve Arruda, a sales agent with Century 21 Regal Realty, represented the landlord in that case, and had the displeasure of dealing with Lemke. Upon moving into the condo in October 2016, Lemke’s metamorphosis into the tenant from hell didn’t take long.
“He paid the first and last month’s rent, then he was there rent-free for six months,” said Arruda. “He’s one of those guys who knows the system and knows exactly how much time he has.
“He was bragging about how he’d be there for six months, and bragging about how he has rights, like the right not to pay rent.
We went to the tribunal, but he’d always stall the hearings, make false accusations—it was just a big mess. It was the most stressful time of my life.”
Fortunately, landlords can take certain precautions to avoid scenarios like this. Some require a small fee, but Arruda says they’re worthwhile.
A website called naborly.com uses artificial intelligence to compile and analyze data about everything from the rental property and market conditions to, of course, the potential tenant, in a bid to determine whether or not the landlord is vulnerable to risk. The assessment predicts risks of eviction, late rent payments and even property damage, among other things.
Rent Check Credit Bureau, which bills itself as the housing industry’s credit bureau, has been around for over 40 years and screens potential tenants in depth.
Arruda emphasized the importance of getting criminal background checks and meeting potential tenants in person.
He owns rental properties and says face-to-face meetings are revealing.
“I’ve been a landlord for a long time and I find the best thing is meeting the person,” he said. “I’m very hands-on. I even do properties where I have a property manager who takes care of that as well.”
Many unsuspecting house hunters were caught in another of Lemke’s scams. He advertised renting one of the condo’s bedrooms, and took off with many deposits. Don’t be surprised if that becomes more common after the new mortgage rules take effect, says Arruda.
“People will be forced back into [condo rental s], putting more pressure on the rental market,” said Arruda. “People are getting a bit cocky and brave and realize there’s no recourse.
This story might not stop it; it might encourage it because they know they can live rent-free for six months.”
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Nightmare tenants are afforded a lot of protection under Ontario law, even when they refuse to pay rent or move out, but, fortunately, steps can be taken to ensure your due diligence is foolproof.