Need to Know!

Tenant Screening 101 – Applicant Identification

August 5, 2014 5:17 pm

Hair personConfirming the identity of (or authenticating) prospective residents is perhaps the most important step in the tenant screening process, since nothing else you do matters unless the applicant is who they say they are.  The content of the tenant screening report – the credit profile, public records (criminal and eviction) search results and rental and employment verifications – depends on it.

Authenticating prospective residents is so important that it warrants redundancy.  That said, steps taken will vary based on the tenant screening model and process employed.

Traditional Tenant Screening Model – Paper Application

Under this model, the process starts with the rental application and looks like this:

  • Applicant completes application.
  • Landlord reviews application – ensuring that it is complete (no unexplained blanks).
  • Landlord compares personal information supplied by the applicant to the applicable government issued picture identification.
  • Landlord submits application to tenant screening company.
  • Tenant screening company compares credit header information (name, address, alias and SSN – for example) to information provided by applicant in the application – conducting an SSN trace if the comparison is inconclusive.
  • Landlord explores and documents reasons for address mismatch alerts, if any.

Traditional Tenant Screening Model – Online Application

Under this model the process is largely reversed and looks like this:

  • Applicant completes application online.
  • Tenant screening company compares credit header information (name, address, alias and SSN – for example) to information provided by applicant in the application – conducting an SSN trace if the comparison is inconclusive.
  • Landlord reviews application – ensuring that it is complete (no unexplained blanks).
  • Landlord compares personal information supplied by the applicant to the applicable government issued picture identification.
  • Landlord explores and documents reasons for address mismatch alerts, if any.

Non-traditional (Consumer Initiated) Tenant Screening Model

Under the consumer-initiated tenant screening model, the authentication process is partially automated and looks like this:

  • Landlord refers applicant to applicable tenant screening web site.
  • Applicant is vigorously authenticated using (for example) Experian’s Precise IDSM and Knowledge IQSM  authentication technology similar (if not identical) to that used by AnnualCreditReport.com – similar to that employed by AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Landlord compares personal information supplied by the applicant to the applicable government issued picture identification.
  • Landlord explores and documents reasons for address mismatch alerts, if any.

Landlords will often make copies of government issued photo identification for their files.  It pays to keep in mind that federal law prohibits copying or reproducing…

18 U.S.C.
United States Code, 2011 Edition
Title 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 33 – EMBLEMS, INSIGNIA, AND NAMES

§ 701. Official badges, identification cards, other insignia
Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under regulations made
pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

Military ID is perhaps the best example of ID covered by this statute. There is, however, an exception to the restriction regarding military ID.

According to Department of Homeland Security and the U.S Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS), “You may make a photocopy of the military ID card for Form I-9 [employment] purposes. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act governing the Form I-9 process, the copying of documentation is permitted.”

Screening prospective residents is more important (and more complicated) than ever.  Application of equal measures of common sense and a few “best practices”, however, makes it possible to thoroughly vet prospective residents without making ourselves targets of trial lawyers and regulators.

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