N.H. service helps landlords check renters’ backgrounds

When Jeannine Richardson and her former husband Bill Stergios lost $20,000 in back rent from their Manchester rental properties in 1993, the couple decided to protect their business.

“We contacted the credit bureau,” Richardson said of the effort to check applicants’ rental histories. They were denied because of the size of their business operation. “Back then, if you didn’t have an office in a commercial zone, you couldn’t check a person’s credit,” said Richardson, 56, of Merrimack.

“It caused a major problem for us,” she said.

So Richardson decided to cut out the middleman.

Gathering landlord-tenant case records from the state’s 38 district courts, Richardson and her family began compiling a database of the nearly 7,000 names of tenants and addresses involved in eviction proceedings for the last few years.

“We went back as far as they had been keeping computer records,” Richardson said.

The data entry took about six months to complete, and by September 1995, Richardson was in the business of selling tenant rental histories. The response was immediate from local landlords.

“They were thrilled, because finally, they had a way to check on people,” Richardson said.

More than a decade later, Richardson’s company, Landlord Connection, can not only check if a person has been a party to eviction proceedings in New Hampshire, but also if he or she has ever been a party to eviction proceedings in any other state.

For an annual member fee and costs per service, landlords are able to obtain basic rental history and credit reports based on information provided by a prospective tenant. The company also conducts county and federal criminal background checks, as well as civil litigation histories.

“The credit checks are immediate and the rental histories are immediate,” Richardson said. “And in most states, other than New Hampshire, we can get immediate criminal checks.”

False identities

Richardson’s approximately 1,200 clients include a number of southern New Hampshire landlords, with both small and big operations, as well as some housing authorities, she said.

The company also serves landlords in nearby states, as well as those far away. The search results range in price, the most basic at about $12. For that price, a landlord can verify the identity of a prospective tenant, as well as check for any eviction history.

“It’s not uncommon to find people using false identities with landlords,” Richardson said, describing one recent check in which the Social Security number given by a prospective tenant was that of a deceased man.

“The person had died in 1997 in California,” Richardson said.

The searches also include the names, addresses and phone numbers of the tenants’ former landlords whom the company encourages clients to call as well as any other information that landlords have reported to the agency about a tenant, good or bad.

Richardson said she gets landlord reports about tenants every day.

“Often about how they trashed the place and left owing a lot of money,” she said.

Tenants with a bad rental history who want to tell their version of an eviction or other situation can do so.

“They have a chance to enter 100 words into a file,” Richardson said.

The records also note when an eviction was the result of a foreclosure on the part the property owner.

“People don’t get accused of something that they didn’t do,” Richardson said.

Like her clients, the housing market has affected business in the last couple of years, Richardson admits, especially in the last months of 2007, when her company was struggling. Business has picked up since the beginning of the year, however, so for now, Richardson says she will continue to mine information for the landlord community.

“I haven’t gotten rich doing this, I can assure you, but it’s a living,” she said.

Landlord Connection can be reached at 603-424-1596 or online at www.landlordconnection.com. – STEPHANIE HOOPER/THE TELEGRAPH