The accidental landlord discovers why a good credit rating is no guarantee

Unconvinced by a reference agency report, the accidental landlord digs up a tenant's renting past and uncovers disturbing details online...
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You may consider a credit report is a pretty good way of guaranteeing that a tenant is rock solid. Well, think again because even the most "comprehensive" checks made by some credit reference agencies — supposedly delving deep into a tenant's past — can be laughably superficial.

A tenant might have been turfed out of their previous property for not paying the rent — they might even have trashed the place or turned it into a drugs den — but you wouldn't necessarily know that from a credit report.

I received an offer on one of my flats from a woman who seemed okay, but there was something about her that made me a little uneasy, so I accepted on condition that she passed the most thorough credit and reference check money could buy.

Two days after she completed the forms online I had heard nothing from the credit reference agency, so I called to find out when I would get the results. I was told that they were just waiting for her current landlord to provide a reference.

"If you want to speed things up, the tenant can just get her landlord to call us and we'll do it over the phone," I was told.

How did they know this tenant wouldn't get a friend to call and pretend to be her landlord, I asked? 

"We don't," said the chap at this well-known reference agency. 

"A lot of this process is done on trust."

I had too much to lose to risk leaving this in the hands of a boxticker, so I rang the mobile number the tenant had provided for her landlord myself. 

He sounded hesitant when I asked about her, but after an awkward pause he said she was fine and she had always paid her rent on time. However, when I asked how much she was paying, he was vague. He was similarly uncertain when I asked him how long she had been renting from him. 

After a few seconds he said: "About a year". 

I wasn't convinced so I asked him to email me a copy of her tenancy agreement and then suddenly he remembered that she had only moved into his flat a month earlier on a short-term contract. Either he had amnesia or he was a terrible liar but, either way, I couldn't trust a word he said.

I typed the tenant's name and what little I knew about her into Google and the results made my eyebrows leap a foot off my head. Naturally, as she was under 30, she had posted minute details of her life and all her most intimate thoughts online. Aside from other alarming details, I found out that until a few weeks earlier, she had been jobless, homeless and broke. Of course, none of this was picked up by the credit check, which she passed. 

The reference agency recommended that I accept her application. I spent a restless night wondering what to do. 

I'd had plenty of interest in the flat and could easily have found another tenant. 

However, it seemed from what I had read online that this woman was trying to turn her life around and I thought she deserved a chance. No one is perfect, after all.

With my fingers crossed behind my back I accepted her application, but to reduce the risk I bought rent guarantee insurance for the first time ever. 

As this sort of cover costs about £100 per tenancy per year I have always thought it was too expensive, but with this particular tenant I felt the need for something more solid than the flimsy reassurance of a credit report.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. 

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