Eviction rates have been rising for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed them to new levels. These evictions are having devastating effects on both tenants and property managers, and while there are moratoriums on evictions at local, state, and—most recently—federal levels, these effects will remain.
Why have evictions risen so sharply? And, what can property managers do to protect themselves? To find out, Snappt, a leader in application fraud detection, commissioned the Snappt 2020 Eviction and Fraud in the Rental Industry Survey.
In 2019, Snappt published a study that showed application fraud cost the property manager of a typical residential building millions of dollars annually. Since that study, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. We wanted to see how the pandemic is impacting the prevalence of application fraud on the rental industry, so we commissioned the 2020 Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Residential Rentals Survey.
ReRez Research of Dallas surveyed both property managers and renters. The 100 property managers surveyed either manage or are involved directly with evaluating rental applications. They had a variety of titles and roles, but they were most commonly business or property managers.
The 120 renters were split between millennials, Gen-X, boomers, and the silent generation and were geographically distributed across the US. They were all renting apartments or townhouses. We did not survey renters of single-family homes.
Application Fraud is on the Rise
Application fraud occurs when an applicant for a rental unit submits fake or fraudulently altered financial documents in an effort to mislead the property manager. For example, an applicant may be unemployed but buys a fake paystub online to appear to be employed, or they may use software to alter their bank statement balance from $231.05 to $127,231.05.
Our survey found that application fraud is growing quickly. Property managers told us that 29 percent of rental applications now exhibit application fraud, which is nearly double the 15 percent we found in our survey at the end of 2019.
What’s more, 85 percent of all property managers now report being a victim of application fraud, up from 66 percent last year. And, whereas last year, property managers felt that just one-in-ten fraudulently altered applications went through undetected, they now say that one in four goes undetected.
Causing Problems with Rent Payments
It is not surprising that inadvertently letting in tenants who are unqualified leads to problems with rent payments. In fact, property managers report more than half of all tenants today are having trouble making rent payments, with a quarter paying late, one in six (17 percent) paying less than full rent, and one in nine (11 percent) paying no rent at all.
Alliance, one of the largest private U.S. residential rental companies, manages a $20 billion portfolio. Eric Johnson is the business manager for NoHo 14, a marquis Alliance property in North Hollywood, just minutes from some of LA’s largest studios.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem worse. “Since COVID-19 hit, we’ve seen an increase in people submitting fraudulently edited documents,” says Johnson. “We are seeing people who have unfortunately lost their job, but take valid documents from months before they were laid off and change the dates. NoHo 14 saw more than $500,000 in fraud-related losses last year. Costs included eviction costs and unpaid rent.
Skyrocketing Eviction Rates
These rent payment issues have caused a surge in evictions. Property managers report an astounding 21 percent eviction rate today, an increase of 75 percent over last year, and one in four of these are tied to application fraud.
Three out of ten renters have been, or will be, evicted after moratoriums expire. In fact, the typical property manager has 15 evictions stacked up and waiting for moratoriums to expire. If this sounds expensive, it is. The typical building has lost more than $70,000 from COVID-19.
How Property Managers Can Protect Themselves from Application Fraud
To help prevent application fraud, best practices as well as the latest technology advancements can speed vetting, authenticating and processing any application.
Visually inspect every document
Is the visual quality of every document what you would expect? Or, does it look like it has been copied multiple times? Ensure account numbers carry across separate documents. Check that transactional details and other numbers are aligned and match formatting in verified documents you’ve received from the same source in the past.
Double-check the numbers
Call all the telephone numbers on a document to make sure they work; but, how do you know the person on the line is a prior employer or an accomplice in crime? Look up contact information for issuing organizations or corporate HR departments yourself. Ask for details such as a start-date, specific information a friend would be unlikely to know.
Consider the big picture
Does the narrative across all sources of an application agree? Inconsistencies or dead links for live documents are a red flag. How do applicants feel about submitting paperwork in person? Peruse LinkedIn pages and review histories through online databases such as sba.gov or opencorporates.com to ensure a company is legitimate. Ask applicants to print statements in the leasing office.
In addition to the previous techniques, many property managers are turning to technology solutions. New tools allow for programmatic evaluation of tenants and identification of fraudulent documents to prevent a fraudulent tenant from ever signing a lease.