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DALLAS-A hard-line approach to tenant screening at multifamily properties in Texas and Arizona, both advocate states of criminal background checks, will get even tougher in light of Sept. 11. That’s the word from executives of two leading screening services and Arizona’s Multi-Housing Association.

It’s a hot topic that was part of the National Multi-Housing Association convention in Chicago last week. Mark Hayden, Arizona’s executive director, says awareness is heightened and the pressure’s on for property managers to be even tougher gatekeepers. “Everyone’s looking at it,” Hayden tells GlobeSt.com. “The challenge is you can’t screen for things they (tenants) haven’t done yet.” He predicts that criminal background checks will become standard procedure, and possibly mandated, as a result of Sept. 11. He strongly advocates linking convictions to readily accessible databases to make everyone’s job easier.

David Carner, vice president of market development for Dallas-based RealPage Inc., says the problem arises when a would-be tenant has been in the country less than 90 days. That’s when property managers and screening services turn to a case-by-case review to decide whether to turn over a key. Otherwise, there’s a long list of checks and balances that must be met by a prospective tenant: social security number, job and salary verification, criminal background, prior rental history, check writing history, fraud review and credit scrutiny. It’s routine procedure at the one million units that RealPage screens for clients nationwide.

In states such as Texas and Arizona, RealPage each month turns over a list of applicants’ names to the FBI for background checks to help weed and sort who gets in the door. Fair Housing laws are followed but, Carner says, “it’s not illegal to turn someone down because they don’t have proper papers.”

Security clearinghouses are used to make sure owners get their rent and no one who poses a risk of a violent crime gets through the door. Still, it’s not a foolproof system because of identity theft and the absence of such measures at many properties, most often those on the other side of the tracks.

Identity theft is one reason why RealPage clients JPI and Amli prefer move-in payments in personal checks, says Carner. Money orders and cashier checks are acceptable at times, but the no-cash policy gives a certain edge to the security gurus.

Sam Cooper, the Arizona and New Mexico representative for Van Nuys, CA-based UD Registry, says one good safeguard for foreign applicants is to ask for a visa and look at the expiration date and photo. “If they’re looking to rent for 12 months and the visa expired three months ago, you have a problem,” she says. “It’s just a matter of doing what the president says and that is having an awareness.” Passports are not acceptable because they lack expiration dates, she emphasizes.

For Texas and Arizona, the executives don’t see the process changing. Both states have had criminal background requirements routine fare for would-be tenants for nearly 15 years. The practice, says Carner, is just now creeping into the northeast. California too, perhaps the most freewill state in the Union, is starting to reconsider its stance on the privacy issue. “Law and order is something Americans are willing to give up some of their freedoms for,” he asserts.

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