Property owners in D.C. run into some unique investing challenges due to the structure of our nation's capital. From unique business licensing requirements to ensuring your D.C. rental properties keep in line with association expectations, it can be daunting to invest alone. However, even with this in mind, occasionally a problem comes along that really throws you for a loop. We're talking, of course, about 'Professional Tenants.'
Professional Tenants, sometimes referred to as 'Serial Squatters,' are every D.C. property owner's nightmare. They're professionals at:
- Taking advantage of the system
- Taking advantage of property owners, and
- Taking advantage of eviction protections.
To defend your property against Serial Squatters, heed the advice we've developed over decades of serving as your professional in property management, D.C. investors! We have experience managing single-family properties, condos, rowhomes, and even entire associations in the D.C. area—so we've seen just about every curveball the D.C. rental market can throw. Now's your opportunity to put that experience to bat for you!
Please note: This post is not a substitute for proper legal counsel and contains information that was current at the time of its publishing. When in doubt, it's best to reach out to the professionals at EJF Real Estate Services or to obtain guidance from a skilled attorney.
What Are Professional Tenants?
You may have heard of these terms before, but either haven't been on the losing end of one or suddenly find yourself there now—desperately searching for solutions. They refer to renters who are essentially con artists and experts at gaming the D.C. rental market. They're often master manipulators and use this ability to use your otherwise-lucrative investment property without paying rent for as long as possible.
Keep in mind that we're not talking about the casual, daily problems you may face with your renters now and again. People are still human! We've all experienced residents who we don't particularly like or get along with, who aren't friendly, who sometimes pay their rent late, make too much noise, or generally get on their fellow residents' nerves. As irritating as these issues may be (especially within the rules of community housing), true Professional Tenants are on another level.
Signs of a Serial Squatter
The trouble with professional renters is that they're often highly challenging to spot. You often don't realize what you've gotten yourself into until the renter in question has already signed the lease and moved in. That's when the problems start to pile up—and the red flags start to show their true colors.
Keep an eye out for some of these signs of a Professional Tenant, and some of the tactics they may use.
- A spotty rental history: Serial Squatters tend to jump from one property to another as they eventually outstay their welcome or are evicted. A rental history with an unusual number of moves or evictions can be a red flag. This is a crucial piece of history to investigate.
- Paying partial rent: When a renter offers to pay partial rent, proceed with caution. In most areas (especially those relying on payment plans right now), you cannot evict a renter during a month in which they've paid part of their rent. Professional Tenants know this and will sometimes try to hang onto their place of residence for as long as they can, paying as little as possible. These days, Serial Squatters may use COVID-19 to their advantage, using eviction moratoriums as an excuse to avoid paying rent.
- Insisting on repairs: One of the tactics such scammers often use is refusing to pay rent until repairs have been made. Some may constantly demand repairs that aren't actually needed, while others may go so far as to deliberately damage your property and refuse to pay until the issue has been fixed.
- Paying in cash: Cash transactions aren't always cause to sound the alarm. Some residents (especially older residents) simply prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. But cash is harder to track, which does make it the preferred payment method of scammers.
How to Avoid Professional Tenants
Once these grifters get a foothold in your property, they are extremely difficult to get rid of. Doing so can be mentally and emotionally exhausting—not to mention time-consuming and resource-draining.
Evicting a resident once they've signed a lease is very challenging in D.C., and the potential legal fees alone should be motivation to avoid making the same mistake twice. As your expert to property management, D.C. investors, we believe one of the most crucial ways to prevent this outcome is to thoroughly screen each applicant.
So many of the issues we mentioned above can be spotted with a thorough bit of research into a potential renter. Sadly, all too many investors skip this necessary piece of the puzzle—and end up housing a nightmare.
- Do your research: Perform a thorough background check that includes the applicant's credit report, employment history, income verification, criminal record check, and eviction history.
- Don't rely on first impressions: Professional Tenants are experts at giving a great first impression. They're often polite, charming, well-dressed, and give every indication that they are reliable and trustworthy.
Bias is often destructive as an investor: you certainly don't wish to be hoodwinked by your opinions here. Do your due diligence, follow the law, and you'll protect yourself and your long-term wealth from an invasion.
How Property Management D.C. Experts Offer Protects You
Not every D.C. property owner has the resources to do a complete background check on every applicant before they offer them a lease. However, the professionals in property management, D.C. investors, make it their career to do so.
- We offer a thorough and comprehensive resident screening process that utilizes the latest background check technology and databases.
- We also employ a live screening team that will uncover every relevant detail of your renters' past while protecting you from the shade of bias as your professional buffer.
- We uphold this by ensuring that our tenant screening process is legal and ethical—and that it doesn't risk breaking any privacy, anti-discrimination, or D.C. rental laws.
A dedicated D.C. property manager that has experience handling the unique needs of properties in D.C. will have your best interest in mind, and that includes keeping Serial Squatters out of your property—as well as keeping you out of legal hot water.
However, how do you know when you're working with exceptional property management in the D.C. rental market? Gauge them with your free copy of our Guide to Finding the Best Property Management Professional in Washington D.C.!