ORLANDO-When the National Multi-Housing Association puts tenant profiling procedures on its convention discussion agenda, as it did in Chicago last week, it’s a hot topic.

Today, more than ever before, property managers in Florida are paying closer attention to qualifying prospective tenants. They don’t want to be embarrassed again as one of their colleagues was in Delray Beach, FL just prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC.

The topic heated up after the property manager disclosed to the FBI that she had rented an apartment for 90 days, without credit or criminal background checks, to two of the 19 terrorists who killed themselves and 6,000 office employees in the destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington, DC. The terrorists paid their rent and security deposit in cash with large bills.

In GlobeSt.com’s newest survey, sources tell this news service’s bureau chiefs and reporters, on the record, their tenant screening practices have not changed since the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Off the record, however, property managers concede they are honing their due diligence procedures like never before, staying within the letter of the law.

Although fair housing advocates in the United States and Great Britain have long argued that profiling or discrimination based on race, sex, religion and age alone is illegal, property managers continue to defend their established practices of legally qualifying apartment, office, retail and industrial tenants on short-term or long-term leases.

For instance, flags should go up when an obviously foreign tenant prospect acknowledges being in the country for less than 90 days, David Carner, vice president, market development, RealPage Inc., Dallas, tells GlobeSt.com’s Southwest Bureau Chief Connie Gore.

“It’s not illegal to turn someone down because they don’t have proper papers,” Carner says. “Law and order is something Americans are willing to give up some of their freedoms for.”

In Orlando, 175 miles north of Delray Beach, Tom D. Cook, senior associate, Carter & Associates-ONCOR, agrees.

“Whether right or wrong, how can you not profile?” Cook asks. “The FBI and police are doing it, and if the inconvenienced are not American citizens, is protecting our freedoms less important than preserving their rights as our guests?”

The broker says he thinks “it comes down to the fact that we are all being inconvenienced by the acts of a few when we fly or travel, when we congregate, etcetera and I’m okay with that.”

But, he asks, “Why should housing applicants be any different than the traveling public?”

If screening policies by the country’s property managers haven’t changed since Sept. 11, they should, George D. Livingston, founder/president, Realvest Partners Inc., Maitland, FL tells GlobeSt.com.

But profiling “should have multiple components,” suggests Livingston. “When it does, it’s legal.” He is a former Defense Department analyst with numerous overseas assignments and a director of FIABCI, the international corporate real estate organization based in Paris.

The profiling should note obvious “foreign descent, short-term rental desired, no family, cash in large bills, little luggage and frequent visitors,” Livingston says. “I would have a policy of reporting early and often to the FBI or local police as the flags mount” on the prospective tenant’s application.

Up to now, profiling has not been an issue for office and industrial owners, Livingston says. “It’s not part of the underwriting procedure,” he says.

Paying rent and security deposits with large bills, however, should be “a flag, no matter what nationality” of the prospective tenant, the developer says.

But carrying large amounts of cash shouldn’t be a primary tipoff on a potentially dangerous tenant, points out Robin L. Webb, a longtime hotel property manager/operator and currently vice president/managing broker, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL.

“The typical red flags which go up in most markets because a prospective tenant asks for a short-term lease or pays in cash often do not apply” in Florida where property managers are accustomed to dealing with seasonal guests and a large number of corporate relocation tenants, Webb tells GlobeSt.com.

Further, says Webb, “many cultures around the world simply do not promote the use of credit cards and personal checks, and therefore handle most transactions by cash.”

He says, however, prudent property management practices dictate that background and credit checks on prospective tenants should always be made regardless of the length of the lease. “Failure to do so may result in liability well beyond that of financial risk for both the manager and owner.”

Webb adds, “If there was a positive effect of the terrorist attacks, it may well be an increase in the appropriate due diligence conducted by project managers.”

Christopher T. Sproles, vice president/leasing, CB Richard Ellis Inc., Orlando, agrees. “I think everyone is taking a more keen eye toward any activity that would be remotely suspicious, regardless of ethnic background.”

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