The accidental landlord: using Google to access potential tenants

Victoria Whitlock finds Google a more useful tool than credit checks when it comes to assessing a would-be tenant

Google your own name and, unless you're so vain you do it all the time, you might be shocked at how much you can find out about yourself online. I did it, and I was surprised to discover that anyone could easily find out the month and year of my birth, my nationality, my profession, where I live and with whom. For a split second I was unnerved also to read of my death — until I realised that was someone else with the same name.

There's a ton of information about us out there in cyberspace, which is why Google is one of the greatest tools for landlords to use to check out prospective tenants. In fact, a quick online search will probably tell you way more about them than any credit check, especially if they are under the age of 30 and regular users of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Employers often snoop around job applicants' Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to make sure they haven't posted anything inappropriate, so I don't see why landlords shouldn't do the same.

You can spy on people with complete anonymity, zooming in on their personal life and probing their business activities until you know enough to satisfy yourself that they're the sort of person you want living in your property.

I found a prospective tenant I really liked but when I ran a credit check it came back with an alarming "high risk" warning and I was advised by the company that carried out the referencing to reject them on account of their low income. However, I realised that while the report verified name, address, date of birth and annual income, it didn't tell me what the person was really like. So I got Googling — and this is what I found.

On Facebook, even though my would-be tenant had privacy settings in place, I could see they went to a top private school, earned a degree from a decent university, belonged to several social groups and had several hundred "friends", some of whom didn't pull silly faces at the camera and seemed to have decent jobs.

Of course, that Facebook page could have been a total fabrication, or they could have told a few fibs — like my 14-year-old niece who claims on her page to have a degree in astrophysics — but it would have been quite an elaborate lie.

On LinkedIn, the business networking site, I could see this person had held a few jobs since graduating, one for more than a year, was well-qualified (though poorly paid) for their current position and had many business contacts. In fact, weirdly, we had a third-degree connection to each other.

I also found a current address, which was listed to let on Rightmove. Assuming the photos of the property interior were taken while my prospective tenant lived there, I could see they kept the place clean and tidy.

So what do I deduce from all of this espionage? Well, I think it shows that I'm dealing with a well-educated, hardworking, sociable and tidy young person. If they lose their job I've no doubt they will walk into another one and I don't think they are the sort to trash my flat, squat or do a runner without paying the rent.

It's a two-way thing, of course, and tenants can easily find out about me online. As I've already mentioned, there's plenty of information out there. I don't really mind if it reassures them... although they might be alarmed to read of my death.

Follow our accidental landlord on Twitter at @VicWhitlock

* Find many more homes to rent at www.homesandproperty.co.uk/lettings.


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