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The enforcer: Jeff Cronrod takes on deadbeat tenants.

Evicting tenants is a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. And as long as others don't have the inclination or the resources to deal with it, why shouldn't Jeff Cronrod make a few bucks for himself?.

Cronrod, whose company offers tenant screening and eviction services, first realized what an integral part of the business eviction is when he couldn't get rid of his own dead-beat tenants.

"I've been an apartment owner for 28 years, so I come from that direction," he explains.

"About 14 years ago, I found myself with $100,000 in eviction judgements and no one to help me collect them. So in 1992, I formed Fidelity."

A union between an investigative business and a technology operation, Fidelity runs several inter-related sites--www.anewtenant.com, www.tenantmail.com and www.abadtenant.com.

The first offers credit and employment checks on prospective tenants, the second allows landlords to automatically notify their tenants about upcoming rent fees and the third offers eviction and debt collection services.

According to Cronrod, the sites make a landlord's life a lot easier by letting him concentrate on the leasing and management of the property, rather than on aspects of the business he is not qualified to deal with.

"Fidelity, essentially, does several things--we sell information, such as tenant and employee screens, and also collect debts."

"In fact, we are the largest landlord collection agency in the country," Cronrod notes.

"It is not a part of the business that landlords usually deal with, so a lot of companies outsource someone to do it. We have a fairly unique niche in the real estate industry."

Cronrod also points out the advantage of running his business through the Internet, an innovation that saves his clients a great deal of time and aggravation.

"I am an Internet junkie and in my spare time, I used to do e-trading," he explains.

"It was so easy and it dawned on my that if I could be my own stock broker, someone could be their own debt collector. So the rent recovery service was the grand-daddy of all the other sites."

According to Cronrod, though the screening and eviction business has an ugly image, it actually takes a lot of skill to deal with non-payment issues.

For one thing, because the company operates in more than one state, his staff has to know how the laws vary. And they have to know how to handle the various types of tenants--some shape up and pay their debts after the first warning letter and some have to be pressured for months.

In the most dire cases, however, Fidelity uses quite aggressive measures to protect the landlord's interests.

"In most states, we are allowed to garnish wages and recollect personal property," Cronrod says.

"Of course, you have to find out where [the personal assets are] and that takes a level of expertise. We have a complex team, which includes private investigator and lawyers."

At the same time, Cronrod recommends that landlords use his other website--www.anewtenant.com--to make sure that they never have to deal with debt collection.

The site, which gives the landlord information about the tenant's prior history and provides a statistical analysis of debt evasion likelihood, can help weed out bad applicants.

"It's a seamless tenant management service," Cronrod says.

Plus, the site researches a prospective tenant's criminal history, so landlords can avoid renting to someone with a violent past or a child molestation record.

"It allows us to access credit, criminal, eviction history," Cronrod notes. "And it also has a totally color and gender-blind scoring process [so you can't be accused of discrimination]"

Fidelity, which now operates mostly on the West Coast, might soon be opening up an office in New York City.

And the company is currently developing several other websites, including a fully automated eviction service.

"A landlord will go online, pay for the service, and with one click, he will be able to take care of the whole process," Cronrod explains.

"But we will test this service for a good year before expanding it. There is a lot of work that goes into making something like that [run smoothly.]"
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Title Annotation:Profile of the week: Jeff Cronrod, President, Fidelity Information Corporation
Author:Misonzhnik, Elaine
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 18, 2004
Words:693
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