In simpler times, tenants might have been able to get one up on landlords -- maybe a small white lie about a job title, a tiny fib about the breed of a pet, or maybe even stretching the truth about annual income.
But it's the 21st century, people! And damning info is a whole lot easier to uncover.
Perhaps you think that prospective landlord is merely doing a quick credit check to make sure you can pay your rent. After all, they deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants every year, right? They're not going to investigate each potential tenant, right? Right?
Well, we've got news for you, straight from landlords' mouths: Once you hand in the paperwork, that landlord is putting on their P.I. hat and finding out a lot more than you think. Here's just a bit of the dirt they're unearthing:
Background checks aren't a new idea. For years, landlords have been running background checks to find out if a potential tenant has been part of a lawsuit or maybe is hiding a bankruptcy filing, crippling student loan debt, or eviction from a previous rental.
But now, thanks to the Internet, those background checks are getting far more common and a lot more sophisticated.
"Many landlords are now validating all the information that shows up on a background check," says Trent Zachmann, chief operations officer of the Minnesota-based property management company Renters Warehouse.
In fact, a little sleuthing is all it takes to spot a discrepancy or verify something that doesn't seem quite right on an application. For example, if the income you reported seems too high, a landlord can use a site such as Glassdoor to gauge the salary that goes with your job title. If it doesn't match up, you might just be kissing that perfect apartment goodbye.
A prospective landlord will also likely call a former or current landlord, and what they can find out might surprise you.
My former landlord -- who's nosy but well-meaning -- spent 30 minutes on the phone with my new landlord, sharing everything including the fact that I work from home, the name of my dog, and how many boxes I get delivered. I only found out because my new landlord thought it was (mostly) so funny that she called to tell me.
It wasn't devastating, but for some people it could be. If you're hiding way more than an Amazon Prime addiction (all-night raves, running a hostel for the homeless, etc.), your dream of getting that apartment might go up in smoke.
Your Internet-famous mistakes
You've probably googled a blind date or prospective new boss, but landlords don't do that, right?
"Yes, actually they do," Zachmann says.
A quick name search can turn up all kinds of information: where you work, who you are friends with, late-night irate rants you left in the comments of a political website. But it can also turn up stuff you might be tempted to omit from your application.
Surprisingly, what most landlords are looking for isn't if you can pay the rent.
"Criminal history from news articles is the easiest and most searched," Zachmann says.
Your social media profiles -- and photos
Landlords aren't stopping at the search box, either. They are digging into your social media accounts. Zachmann says Twitter and Facebook are the most-used sites by landlords. And both sites offer plenty of snooping opportunities.
Did you tell the prospective landlord your dog was more miniature schnauzer than Rottweiler in size? Those recent photos of Humbert the pooch will tell the real story. Fond of posting rants about how worried you are that you might lose your job? After that last tweet, that landlord is too.
How to deal
OK, so a prospective landlord can now learn a lot about you really quickly, but you can minimize the damage if you're proactive.
Before you apply for a new apartment, "it is always smart to do a little research yourself and be aware of what information a landlord may come across, including postings on social media," Zachmann says.
Delete any posts and untag yourself from any photos that seem particularly damaging. Make sure your information is up-to-date (or at least vague) on your profiles. And don't forget to update your LinkedIn page.
Here's an easy rule of thumb: When you do apply, skip the lies. As tempting as it might be to stretch the truth in your favor, the landlord could easily find out. And avoid the temptation to omit requested information.
"For example, we have a question on our application if the person has ever been evicted," Zachmann says. "If someone selects 'No,' and we then find out otherwise through their background check, that is very concerning. [Landlords] ask, 'Why are they covering that up?' "
Bottom line: Come clean! At the very least that landlord could appreciate your honesty. And that might just get you the lease.