How do you feel about background checks/last month's rent?

moonshadowJune 12, 2007

First I should clarify we're talking single family home here, not an apartment complex with close neighbors all around. I typically run credit reports and check registered sex offender database when screening, but have not done a background check (typically credit behavior is a tip off to potentially worse things lurking, so the process generally stops at the bad credit stage). I have recently encountered a situation where a tenant looked ideal on paper (perfect credit) but had some nasty criminal charges pending and a history of domestic issues. That situation has evolved into a small nightmare (about to end though, thankfully). So I'm curious, as a tenant would a background check offend you in some way? Would you balk at paying the $30 fee?

Secondly, I'd love to be able to collect first/last + Deposit. That is a huge chunk of change for a lot of people and rare when I'm able to get last month's up front. Current tenants I have in one house paid last month's up front and they are moving out of state, and I must say the exit process has been a breeze so far. I wish it were always so. Do you typically prepare yourself to pay last month's rent in advance?

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Anyone at all living in MY house (and possibly where my kids were involved) will get a background check whether or not they like it, and if they don't, that alone should be a tipoff to trouble.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 2:48PM
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I think they will balk at the $30 fee. Credit checks and such are just one of the expenses that a landlord has. If you collect the fee from someone, and then decide not to offer them a lease to sign, they are out $30. Imagine a person looking at a dozen places. They would have to come up with $30 for every application they fill out??? How is the person even to know for sure that the money was even used for a check, or that you are just collecting $30 from everyone and pocketing it? Are you going to show everyone the report? A person could fear that an unscrupleous landlord collected the fee from a hundred people when he already had the apartment rented.

Do the check, and list the expense when you do you taxes - it's deductable.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 5:14PM
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So here is a question for you landlords. Would you rather have a great guy with no criminal record but bad credit or would you rather have a guy who has been in prison a few times and has a lenghty police record but has perfect credit? If you deny someone because of their credit do you even talk to them about their score or do you just shred their application?

Personaly I think a 30 dollar fee for an application is a huge scam. I think they should not charge you this fee unless you know you have been approved. Tack it on to your deposit or something. Before I had any rental history I was ripped off at a few places where they charged me 35-40 dollars for the application fee only to never have the manager return my calls when I inquired about the status. They were all "non-refundable".

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 10:07PM
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Also, regarding collecting last months rent in advance; Do it.

They owe you the amount no matter what, and collecting it far in advance can help weed out people who are going to have money problems. If someone does not have a cushion of cash in their checking account to cover last month rent, they are living paycheck to paycheck, and should they lose their job, or have an unexpected financial crisis (medical bill, car repair), they are going to be a problem to you when they whine that they "need more time" to come up with that months rent. These type of renters need to look for a cheaper place to live that they can handle.

Where I live, a landlord can legally collect the entire year's lease amount in full, in one lump sum, at signing if they wish. No one does that though, as most renters do not have $20,000 sitting around in their checking account and that is rather understandable. If someone had a huge sum saved up they would probably just go buy a house. I have heard of landlords collecting first month, second month, and last months rent along with the security deposit though.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 7:22AM
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I no longer rent, but I rented for years and would not have been offended by landlord/lady running a background check on me. I think the only people who would be offended are those who have something to hide.

I would ask for the fee to do it upfront from the potential tenant, but refund it if the tenant checked out OK and you decided to rent to the person. I do think the tenant has a right to see his/her report if they are expected to pay for it. It's like when you buy a house...the bank runs your credit report, you have to pay for it and, as a result, you get (should get anyway) a copy of the report.

I always had to put down a security deposit on any place I rented, and it usually was a full month's rent. I never had a problem paying first month's rent and the last month's rent (in most cases, called the deposit). I agree with others who have said that asking for the last month's rent is a good way to weed out those who will be good renters vs. those who won't.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 11:36AM
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I would at least call their employer and references listed on the application. other people I know that are landlords ask for 2 past landlords names and numbers. if they get both they call the second previous landlord first. the reason is the current landlord may want to get rid of them and tell you they are wonderful so he or she doesn't have them as a problem anymore. I think if there are kids living close by you should check the megan's law web site to see if they are on the list. I wouldn't want a sex offender living near my kids or kids of my freinds and family. but then if they are a sex offender how do you decline to rent to them on those grounds only? it could be easy to call that discrimination.

I am a landlord now but I know what its like to live pay check to paycheck. I would never ask for first, last and security deposit. around here its not usually done and most people would not have it. just to move in to a $700/month place is 1400 now with just first and security. if someone could not come up with that 1st and security I would not rent to them by taking payments on the deposit. also you should never prorate the first months rent if they move in in the middle of the month, get a full month first then when the rent is due on the 1st of the month again prorate the second month treating it sort of like they prepaid you half the of second month.

terig_2007 the deposit is not the last months rent and should never be used as if it was. alot of renters try to tell the landlord to keep the deposit as the last months rent but thats not how its to be done. doing so is not legal in my home state of PA per the landlord tenant act of 1951. the security deposit is to secure that the tenant holds up his/her end of the lease, pays rent on time, does not sublet or abandon the property and leaves it when moving out clean and with out any damage other than normal wear. you can see that if you leave the landlord with the deposit for that last month of rent and something is damaged he has no funds of yours in holding to take from to repair it. also by not paying your rent you are breaking the lease,but then if you are moving why care? well if the landlord wants to in the event the place was damaged he could sue you for the damages and rent not covered by your deposit and court costs. a judgment could be placed on you, if you didn't pay what a judge decied you owe. this will never go away untill you pay it and could prevent you from renting in the future and prevent you from getting a mortgage to buy a house.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 2:40PM
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Mike 73: Take a deep breath. This subject is not worth getting on your high horse about.

Landlords in my past--Thank God they are no more!--always told me my deposit would be used toward any damages I caused or applied toward my last month's rent should I decide to break the lease. I never did, and never once did not receive my full deposit back.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2007 at 10:23AM
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Terrig_2007, no need to get testy with Mike73. He is correct. I was going to point out the same thing when I read your post, but then saw that Mike73 had already done so. People should not be misinformed, and I would hate to see someone get into a bad situation because of something they read here.

If your landords in your past had told you the deposit would be applied to you last months rent if you break your lease, as you say, they were doing you a favor, and being foolish, by leaving themselves financially vulernable. It is not legal for a renter to insist on using their deposit for last months rent, in my state either, and I bet that is the way it is in most/all states. I just can't imagine a landlord being so nice to someone who would break their lease. People who break leases are usually the ones who leave the place in shambles and that is what the security deposit is for. Even "nice" renters who fulfill their lease obligations often leave a huge amount of damage. There is no way to tell ahead of time, who is going to leave carpet burns or broken screens.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2007 at 3:09PM
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"People who break leases are usually the ones who leave the place in shambles and that is what the security deposit is for"

That's so not true. I had to break my lease once because I was relocated by my job to a different part of the state. I explained this to the landlord and she was fine a=with it. The only thing I owed her was an extra months rent as a penalty. I didn't leave the place in "shambles" and I did receive most of my deposit back.

People have to break leases for different reasons. Don't think that just because you break a lease that it is being done volunarily. I've been at my current place now for over a year now and I did renew my lease a few months ago. I still have 3 months left on my lease. I have this great opportunity to be promoted at work, making more money and advancing in the company. Unfortunatly this does require an out of state transfer. The good news is that's its a transfer to a much cheaper part of the country. The bad news is that I may have to break my lease again because I don't think my company is going to wait 3 months for me to finish up my lease. I may lose the position to someone else. As much as I would hate to break my lease it's really a no brainer.

As far as people leaving their apartments damaged, there is a reason for that. It's called greedy landlords. They probably got screwed by a former landlord in regards to their deposit. This happened to me when I upgraded from one apartment to another here in the same complex. They charged me for all kinds of ridiculous things even though I cleaned that apartment and it was immaculate. They even had the nerve to charge me for new carpet even though I rented a steam cleaner and cleaned it myself. But now I know what to expect. When I do move out of this place I'll make sure NOT to clean anything because now I know that they will charge me for it regardless of whether I clean or not. Not exactly a smart thing to do to a tenant who still lives in your complex.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2007 at 10:28PM
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I agree with the post that suggested you make the background check fee part of the deposit.

We have lived in our apt for over a year now and just renewed our lease. This is a very high end, luxury apt and they did require a complete background check. That is the reason we came here, because they ran them.

The fee was $25 and then when we moved in they took it off the first month's rent. We were thrilled they did complete criminal checks. That is why this is a an exclusive community.

We had to come up with $2375 to move in. Pet deposit included and we had it and we also knew the thing is that not everyone is moving in here with that kind of money up front.

Being scrupulous gives us, the tenants, a nice place to live

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 8:35AM
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Bud_wi: I wasn't getting testy. I just didn't appreciate being told I was "wrong" when I know better than you or Mike what my landlords told me! I am SO glad I don't have to deal with landlords anymore!!!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 9:40AM
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Angel47630, I am glad that it worked out in your favor, but what about the dozens of other people who may have applied and lost their money since it would not be 'deducted from their first months rent'? As socaldisneydude pointed out landlords can collect the fee from everyone who applies and pocket it, not even bothering to call any of the applicants back.

Moonshadow asks: "Would you balk at paying the $30 fee?" Yes. I am just pointing out that a lot of people would not think that they should be directly billed, for what should be considered part of the expenses of being a landlord. If the landlord wants to run expensive checks on everybody who applies, they should budget that expense in with the other expenses that come with the business of being a landlord. IMHO. Sure, the landlord would have to increase the monthly rent on every unit by about five bucks to cover this expense but the potential tenents probably do not mind paying higher rent for a place they feel is safer with having everyone "checked out" beforehand. I think people would balk at paying $30 for an apartment they may not get.

Of course reginal custom would dictate how well this was received by applicants. Maybe Moonshadow should ask others who live in their area or do a bit of sleuthing through the 'For Rent' ads in their area to to what is common custom for their city.

Anyway, this is a discussion board and Moonshadow can sift through the responses here and decide what works best for her situation. Ther is no "right" answer to this question.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 1:29PM
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One of the flaws of these boards is that you have no clue where anybody is. Obviously if you are in a small town in Kansas population 6000 your situation is different than if you live where disneydude probably lives. I used to teach landlord tenant classes and as a landlord you do have an obligation in California to check criminal and sex offender data bases. In a single family home you are renting--I think you better check it as well or you might find neighbors picketing the place.
In most metropolitan areas and especially big buildings a tenant pays a credit check fee, submits an application, properly filled out and lets you see their drivers license.You check to make sure they work where they say they work and check to see that they aren't currently being evicted. You check the crim data base. You are turning over a piece of real estate worth several hundred thousand dollars in California. The landlord has the most rights before the tenant moves in, after that--the tenant has the upper hand.
Landlords will grab a good tenant fast. They are not willing to have the hassle of showing the apartment day and night just to collect $25 or $30 and keep it. In the meantime, every day that goes by they are losing rent. But tenants who have less than good credit, and a poor recommendation from previous landlords tend to think that. In fact you get the most complaints about paying the credit check fee from people who have awful credit. You would think they would admit there is going to be a problem and work something out with you.
Some tenants don't want to do all that. Thats okay--the landlord doesn't have to rent to them and usually will regret it if they do. Landlords sometimes don't want to go to all that trouble--until they have had awful experiences.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2007 at 12:47AM
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You make several good points.

We had a slew of medical bills about the time we were looking into our apt. I was upfront with the management company and told them the rest of our credit was clean but we had some real medical bills up due to an unexpected surgery.

The were very greatful I was upfront and said they weren't really interested in medical bills, just how you handle car payments and house payments, utility bills, your mainstay bills.

The other thing I did was to research the management co. I live in a small town in Southern IN and I found out they were from Indy so I checked the apt ratings site and read about all their other properties. They had proven to have won countless awards so I knew they were all they said they were.

Bud-wi: the policy here is, you pay the $25 upfront for a criminal check. If you get in, it comes off your first month's rent. If you don't get in, they give you the $25 back. I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone with a criminal history would even want to try and pay that knowing it is a waste of their time?? But then again I am not a landlord so I am sure you can tell me stories that would make my hair stand on end! :)

    Bookmark   June 16, 2007 at 9:48AM
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Interesting input so far and some very helpful, insightful suggestions. Thanks, it's appreciated.

Just to clarify:
-I never charge an application fee. Ever.
-I contact every applicant back, even those rejected. Rejection is typically in writing, for records. To take an app and not respond is not only unethical imho, it's bad manners.
-Tenant's pay for credit reports or can provide me their own (obtained free from a legitimate web site I direct them to), provided it's an unaltered, original printout. Most opt for the latter option, so they're not out any money at that point.
-I don't hold medical charges on credit reports against people. Have had my own credit threatened by an inept clerk doing medical billing and it was a small nightmare to untangle.
-We are on the fringes of a large metro area. Large "in" complexes typically charge fees for everything. Single family homes, pretty much the owners' call.
-Understand living paycheck to paycheck (been there done that more than once when DH's company was in financial trouble). So know that having 1st, last plus security is tough. Yet large complexes charge it and get it. I have had leases broken for poor reasons, and security deposit is not enough to cover lost rent + cleanup + any damage repair while I hustle to get it re-rented. OTOH, have had good tenants, like socaldisneydude mentioned, who got transferred or had a similar legitimate reason to move early and if they communicate what's going on in their lives and prepare me for an earlier than expected move out, I'm quite willing to work with them so everyone's happy in the end.
-I don't interview dozens typically, am not collecting fees left and right. On average of 25% of calls I get will submit an app. Usually by the 3rd or 4th app at the most I've found my tenant. marge727 nailed it: Landlords will grab a good tenant fast. They are not willing to have the hassle of showing the apartment day and night just to collect $25 or $30 and keep it. In the meantime, every day that goes by they are losing rent.

I guess I can cover myself twenty ways from Sunday and there will always be the unique case (like my recent white collar criminal) that throws me for a loop. I have found, in nearly all cases, that when a tenant learns credit report is required they are up front if bad things are on it (have heard some lulu reasons for the bad credit, though). So imagine the same would hold true for a background check. Just knowing something is there could be a screening measure in and of itself, and they wouldn't pursue beyond that, so I wouldn't have to order anything on them. Perhaps that's the happy medium in my case. And if someone says they have a clean background, and I find it true, rent to them, I'd have no issue refunding the fee. Just can't write it off for every applicant I'd order one on. We are too "mom and pop" to be able to afford that on top of all the other expenses, taxes, maintenance, etc.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 9:27AM
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Most places DO NOT refund the money if they do not offer you a lease. That is my point. I have never heard of a place refunding the money.

Angel, I do not understand WHY they would even go through the paperwork of collecting the deposit if they are going to give it back to EVERYONE , as you say "the policy" is where you are. Why bother????? Why not just do the checks and save the time and agrevation??? Collecting and then refunding the money to everyone, is just INSANE and I am having a hard time believing that this is done as the norm.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 3:34PM
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Notice I never said it was "refunded" simply get to take it off your first months rent. That is standard here. Most complexes here give you a free months rent when you move in or you can opt to take it over 2 months making it half the rent for 2 months.

This complex offers nothing in the way of free cable, no washer/dryer in the unit and no move in specials. The simple $25 off the first months rent is all they offer. That, plus knowing you are going to go through a complete background check keeps the undesirable traffic waaaay down.

The standard rule of thumb in this area is any "fees" you pay up front, be it credit report, application fee or background check is then taken off your first months rent.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2007 at 10:46AM
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Well THIS is what you posted when you addressed me in your previous post: "Bud-wi: the policy here is, you pay the $25 upfront for a criminal check. If you get in, it comes off your first month's rent. If you don't get in, they give you the $25 back."

So if you get in, they take it off of the rent and if you DON'T get in they give it back to you. That is what you said. OK. OK. You didn't use the word "refunded" but it is the same thing either way.

And it still doesn't make good business sense to collect money and then give it all back.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 2:36AM
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BTW, The "free months rent" that you say most places give is always the LAST month of the lease that is free, where I am from. I've never heard of it being split but I can't say that it never happens that way. Of course nothing is ever actually "free" the rents are set accordingly for maximun income and covering costs. It is just a bookkeeping manuver and an advertising pull. What different would it make say, whether one pays 1100/mo for 12 months, or 1200/mo for 11 months? The landlord knows what he needs to get out of a lease and can write it up anyway chosen.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 2:48AM
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As I pointed out earlier it depends on where the property is. If there is a housing shortage, a landlord is able to be more careful screening and will give less incentives. If there are lots of vacant units you are going to see l or 2 months free rent on a lease, maybe free cable installation, to get new tenants. Its supply and demand. An empty apartment is unique in that you lose that months rent forever and you cannot get it back. Thats why landlords are foolish to rent to somebody who is going to have trouble paying the rent, because an occupied apartment with no rent coming in is the worst possible situation. The mortgage, insurance, taxes and maintenance still have to be paid.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2007 at 6:36PM
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You are 100% correct! We live in a small town and this is a small complex. There is 100% occupancy here with a waiting list. There is no huge influx of people coming here to apply that won't pass. The management is tight, strict and everyone in this small town knows how tight the ship is run here. People aren't coming in that aren't going to pass the background check. The management co isn't having to give back money all the time. In fact, the check you write for the background check is held and only cashed if you pass, therefore allowing you to take it off your first month's rent. If you don't pass they simply give you your check back. The only $$$ everyone is out is the $30 application fee, which I am sure is the credit check fee. I don't know about other areas, but in this tiny town, folks know there are background checks here and they don't even bother.

There is a huge complex across the highway from us.......they offer everything "free" cable, washer/dryer in the unit......first months rent is free, no deposit either. You can guess what kind of tenants are flocking there!

You are right, area, supply and demand, it is so different all over the country.

I have also lived in the Jersey, NY area, talk about strict!!! Rentals are practically tagged which ones certain types can get in. You know up front if it is even worth a person's time to apply at those.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 10:54AM
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" The only $$$ everyone is out is the $30 application fee, which I am sure is the credit check fee. " Angel, you keep contradicting yourself.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 11:44AM
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When I was looking for somewhere to rent, I found a website where I could sign up to have my credit report, criminal, and eviction background check available to all of the landlords when I was interested in a place. I couldn't believe how easy it was. I signed up, put my information in and paid for my reports. When I found a place I wanted to rent, I gave the landlord the site and my information for them to go receive my reports. I think the best part of all of it was that it didn't affect my credit score at all to have my credit pulled. It made it a lot less stressful when I was looking for a place to live. The website is called

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 2:36PM
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In Chicago, tenants are informed that there will be background and credit checks, and they do not find this offensive, understanding that these are part of the application process.
Also, I will have to agree with Marge, I think when we are posting apartment concerns, it is important to specify our location-- city, at least.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 4:44AM
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my buddy bud_wi...Maybe get into an apartment, and try posting again :)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 6:32PM
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The reality is that a difficult tenant might drive a landlord crazy, but this kind of situation is much more difficult for someone who might live right next to them!

I would think tenants would want every background check in the world done on their potential neighbors.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 1:03PM
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personally i feel discriminated. Did it ever occured to u that the majority of people who have criminal backgrounds are accused unjustly? did it ever occurr to u that the majority of these people were young at the time of the crime....and made bad mistakes without using their intelligence. we all make mistakes....the important thing is change.Everyone has the right of another chance...especially when u really want to change ur life around...i've never comitted no crime....but i'm married to a man who has a horrible past....criminal back ground...bad childhood...but if u meet him you'll notice that its impossible to believe that this man has done anything.My husband is a good father...a good friend....a good husband....and a good adopted son....he's not perfect...but he ain't the devil either...hes just made bad choices....i don't blame him because of his childhood...but i don't see what hes done....cute. i understand him...this man has changed his life around....he has lost so much....but he has gained as well...i believe god gave him an opportunity because hes sees what inside of this mans heart...who are we to judge so blindly...the most sad thing about this is that because of what hes done in his past....we are having trouble finding a house to rent....i've been through so much with this man to know what this man is really about...and i don't understand how naive people can be to just sit there and judge...instead of sitting down and try to find out what exactly is going on.we are good tenants alwayz have been, just trying to give a better life for our two before u decline someone, take the time to think how would you feel if someone rejected you without hearing your side first...because when i look at the eyes of this man it hurts me to know that its killing him and hes feeling unworthy...and he is worth much more than what people think..

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 5:05PM
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I definitely agree with Maria. My daughter is going thru the same thing. It hurts me so bad that every time my daughter paids an application fee she get rejected because of an unjustly criminal background check. My daughter did get into a fight with another girl. it was just a cat fight at the other girls house during a party..they all were friends, nothing seriously..BUT after my daughter and every body left the party the other girl was assaulted by her boyfriend pretty bad with bruises..the girl told her mom that my daughter did it and the mom insisted that the girl call the police and press charges against my daughter. (unjustly criminal background check) my daughter pleaded gulty because she was told that if she lost the case she would be looking at serious jail time. my daughter is so upset about this because she did not know that she would be moving from this small town to make a change in her life and stop partying with her this incident is keeping her from getting into an apartment..we have spend so much money on application fees..just to be denied. How is that fare for her young daughter and fiance' who has no criminal records at daughter is so depress from this that she feel her self unworthy..I have to talk to her and explain that everything will be ok..she is in her early 30's and now realizing that it is time to m ake a change, but how can she when her unjustly background is keeping her from moving forward..Are there any suggestions out there please help?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:31PM
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