Here’s how the story unfolded, according to KARE-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul (and as seen in the video below): The McDonalds began renting a basement bedroom to the man (unnamed by the station) in July, under terms that prohibited smoking and drinking in the room. But their tenant not only ignored the ban, he sometimes became so noisily drunk and disruptive that neighbors several times called police. When the McDonalds told him that they wanted him to leave, KARE reports, “he started verbally abusing them and threatening to destroy the home,” then acted on his threats by “punching holes in several walls, damaging the fireplace with a hammer, breaking light fixtures, dismantling smoke alarms, and burning holes in the carpet” — and even urinating on it. The McDonalds eventually learned that their tenant has a record of arrests and convictions.
The McDonalds told the station that after beginning eviction proceedings against the man, who is technically their roommate, they felt so threatened by his continued presence that they moved out and eventually decided that it was more expedient to settle with him out of court, paying him $500 to leave by today, as well as returning him his $450 security deposit.
“My advice to people is to screen your renters and roommates,” said Terry McDonald, “no matter how what kind of a first impression they make.”
Here are some recommendations along those lines for landlords that can also apply to roommates:
1. Know the law. Research the laws in your state in regarding landlords, tenants and roommates. Sites like Landlord411.com and Nolo.com have information about varying rules, but you might also want to consult a lawyer in your community.
2. Check references, but keep in mind that current landlords or roommates might not be honest about problem tenants if they’re looking to get rid of them.
3. Check applicants’ credit scores. If a prospective tenant has had a car repossessed, a foreclosure, or is in significant credit card debt, that should raise concern about that person’s ability to pay rent and pay on time.
4. Do criminal background checks. In another recent story out of Minnesota, an alleged deadbeat tenant dodged this by using a false name. So also ask for photo ID and other proof to make sure that prospective renters are whom they say they are.
5. Check with the motor vehicles department. In several states that allow online payments for license tab renewals, the DMV will also have drivers’ information available online. Have potential tenants log into the site and show you verification of their drivers license information against the forms of ID they present.
6. Take a cashier’s check for the security deposit. For the security deposit or first month’s rent, require that they pay with a cashier’s check. Or if they will pay by personal check, make sure that the check clears at least a week before the move-in date. Though please note: Scammers have been known to write phony cashier’s checks, as AOL Real Estate has reported.
7. Call their employers. You only want to rent to those gainfully employed, so actually pick up the phone and call employers to see how long prospective renters have been employed by them. If an employer is fairly local, perhaps even make an in-person visit, as it’s not unusual for someone looking to scam to also arrange to have someone other than an employer talk to you on the phone. That was the case with serial evicted tenant Pamela Winegardner who maintained several phone numbers and answered them in different voices, just to give herself rave recommendations.