Living rent free

Landlords are falling victim to serial evictees. A two-pronged defence is needed.
 
Imagine coming home from work and switching on the evening news… then sitting gobsmacked as you watch footage of police breaking up a wild party at your rental property. 
 
Your first investment property (that you were managing yourself) – the one where you had taken pity on the tenants and let them stay even though they weren’t what you’d call ‘ideal’. 
 
That was the case for one Perth landlord who was left facing not only a damage bill for broken fences and windows but $2,500 in lost rental income, having possibly fallen victim to the curse of the ‘serial evictee’ – people who live rent-free until a court order is made so they can be forced out.
 
The home was trashed when more than 200 teenagers attended a party at the premises, one where there was a paid DJ, photographer and videographer – a party that the father of the host told 7 News was “one of the best parties ever”. This was the same man who begged to stay at the home, claiming that the family was strapped for cash and pleaded for compassion over Christmas. 
 
Hungover ManAlarm bells rang early on in the tenancy – the tenants moved in in August and stopped paying rent just a month later. The owner had been trying to evict them since September and they were ordered to vacate the premises in November at a court hearing they didn’t attend (but were notified of the outcome of). The landlord showed compassion, even though she was struggling to pay the mortgage, and didn’t force them out. She told the media she was “livid” after finding out about the expensive party held at her property in December, as she was aware others had also helped out the family with “money, leniency and kindness over the holidays”. It was later revealed this was the third party that had been held and the father told Nine News he’d be hosting more parties, saying “why wouldn’t you?”. The landlord needed to seek the services of a bailiff to evict the family who lived in her property without paying the rent. 
 
Living rent-free until being forced out is becoming more common, but the rise of the serial evictee is not an Australian phenomenon as landlord horror stories are cropping up in news media around the globe. Amongst the victims has been an American professor who was very much mistaken when she thought a fellow professor would be an ideal tenant – it turned out he was a serial evictee and, somewhat ironically, a lecturer in ethics.  
 
Landlords can find themselves victims of serial evictees because of inadequate reference checks, as was the case in these two sad tales. The Perth landlord had spoken to one of the family’s former landlords and was told that although the rent was often late (red flag!) it was always eventually paid. And the duped professor admitted she didn’t bother checking references or doing a background check because the tenant was a fellow professor. 
 
To combat the risk of being exploited, landlords and PMs should perform comprehensive reference checks – contacting all the referees provided including previous landlords/PMs, employers, family members/character referees. If possible, verify the identity of the referee on the end of the phone, as unscrupulous applicants often provide bogus contacts. Request police clearances and check national tenancy databases too. 
 
The second line of defence is ensuring that the landlord has insurance that covers them for tenant issues from non-payment to malicious damage.