Last Updated: November 4, 2021
Table of Contents
You can never be too precautious with new people in your life!
…especially if you’re about to accept those people to your property.
Luckily, today we have the advantage of hiring reliable tenant screening services that can perform complete rental background checks for us. After that, all we need to do is to compare the reports. And then, choose the most suitable and reliable candidate.
Our grandparents, and even some of our parents, weren’t so lucky. They had to do most of their screenings manually and rely on their instincts a lot.
- But, what does a rental background check consist of?
- How does modern-age tenant screening work?
- What are the laws that it follows?
- How long does it take?
- And, what are some red flags that can appear on it?
We are about to discover all that. So stay with us!
What Is a Tenant Background Check?
This is background research that specializes in determining whether someone is an adequate future tenant.
To achieve this, the information that shows on a tenant background report will be slightly different from what shows up on a regular background check.
These types of checks concentrate on personal and professional aspects that can directly or indirectly affect someone’s ability to pay rents on time and keep the apartment in good order.
For example, someone’s credit reports, eviction and rental history can tell more about their payment habits than, let’s say, their educational background. And so, these will be the main objectives of each tenant check.
Even if you’re on the other side of the table, a fair and legitimate tenant search can help you protect your tenant rights.
According to the Fair Housing Act, no landlord can deny an applicant based on any discriminatory characteristic or circumstance such as familial status, gender, color, race, disability, or religion.
Why do landlords perform tenant background checks?
Unless you’re an extremely good psychologist or a psychic, it’s hard to predict what kind of tenant someone will be, based solely on their looks and a short interview.
Anyone can seem an honest and fair applicant at first glance, but you may never guess what a person could hide.
This is where professional tenant background searches pitch in.
By performing background checks for tenants, landlords want to make sure that:
- Their future tenant doesn’t have a serious criminal past.
- Their future tenant doesn’t have a dubious rental history or rental violations behind them.
- The candidate isn’t unemployed or in considerable debt.
- The candidate has a good credit score.
- The overall candidate’s image seems decent enough. The applicant is financially stable, trustworthy, and sufficiently reliable.
What Does a Rental Background Check Consist of?
Not every background search has the same criteria or collects the same data. Different background check companies prioritize different screening content. Still, we created the list of the most common renter screening elements, the ones that almost invariably appear in each tenant report.
Criminal records checks
Some of the least wanted characteristics of the future tenant are problematic past and law breaches.
To help you rule these out, a more comprehensive tenant criminal background check will include:
- arrest and conviction records of the potential tenant
- local, state, and federal records of any felonies and misdemeanors
- sex offender registry check
- the FBI Most Wanted list inspection
- Homeland Security records
- a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Most Wanted list search
Arrests records will appear on almost every criminal background check for apartment rental. However, they are for an informative purpose only. No landlord should take these as eliminatory factors. Not all arrests lead to convictions. Quite often, they are just precautionary measures or part of an investigation requirement.
Besides, someone could get arrested by mistake. Or the arrest could even be a part of a larger misunderstanding.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officially states that no landlord should deny an applicant based solely on an arrest that didn’t result in a conviction.
Furthermore, most tenant protective laws forbid abuse of any tenant background search, including the criminal ones. Minor offenses such as speeding tickets and underage alcohol consumption shouldn’t create ground for any kind of preconception or discrimination.
Landlords can legally invoke previous violent crimes, thefts, vandalism, and similar major offenses, as justified reasons for refusing a tenant.
Rental history verification
Criminal records investigations sometimes provide very broad results. Some of which are of little or no use when performing tenant screening.
Meanwhile, verification of rental history concentrates on a specific part of someone’s past. It is about the findings that are directly related to a person’s tenant qualities.
A rental history check includes:
- list and verification of all the previous addresses
- dates and lengths of tenant’s previous stays
- previous landlords’ contact details
- evictions and other similar incidents
Why do evictions show up on background checks?
Most landlords insist on a thorough check for evictions. They believe it’s essential to know if their future tenant got previously evicted.
Aside from the basic eviction details, such as dates and names, a description of the event is quite valuable here. Based on this, property owners can get a better perception of the tenant’s tendencies and adequacy.
A note for future or new landlords — keep in mind that a single eviction report, without any explanation, doesn’t mean much. The reasons behind this unfortunate episode could be various. Sometimes it’s good to give a person the benefit of the doubt when inspecting their rental history report. And if you still have doubts, ask them about their version of the story.
Previous and current employment verification
Each landlord wants to make sure that their future tenant has the resources to pay rent on time.
No background check can guarantee this 100%. And so, an amount of trust must always get extended. But for that trust, some foundation should exist as well. That foundation is composed of different clues.
The tenant’s employment status is the first such clue. The person seeking to rent an apartment should have proof of employment.
The additional positive indications that most tenant screening background checks can confirm are:
- the future tenant income is three times the rent
- the candidate has spent at least six months in the current job position
- the candidate hasn’t changed jobs too frequently in the past
A person fulfilling these conditions creates an impression of a stable tenant who is more likely to stay for the duration of the lease.
However, if you’re looking to rent and you do not yet satisfy all these resident check conditions, don’t get disheartened. You can always provide supplementary proof of your solid financial situation — such as your bank account statement.
Alternatively, you can offer to pay a higher security deposit or get someone to vouch for you.
Credit report and credit history inspection
Most apartment owners will tell you that they’re looking for a tenant with a credit score of 600 or above.
But, that’s not all.
They want to see the sequence of that credit score creation. A rental credit history check can help look into this.
For example, someone could have a lower than required score despite paying all the bills and loans on time. A single unfortunate event such as a recent job loss or spouse death could set a person months back. Most landlords consider this when forming their decision.
On the other hand, a super high credit score won’t mean much if it’s only from recently. Again, what most landlords are looking for in a tenant is a degree of consistency and stability.
Public records check
At times, landlords may go one step further and request a more detailed background check for renters. These can include some additional public records such as:
- Tax liens
- Civil judgments
- Bankruptcy reports
Tax liens happen when a person skips paying due taxes. It’s how the government secures its interest in the property. Tax liens can remain in the system for 7 to 15 years. The length mainly depends on whether the person was able to repay the debt and to what extent.
Civil judgments are court records that confirm a person was sued and has lost the trial. Subsequently, any debt that they owe by the court will show in renters background checks for seven years.
Bankruptcy reports are major setbacks since they are evidence of legal processes confirming a person was unable to pay their debts. No landlord will take these lightly. They remain in the system for 7 to 15 years, depending on the severity of the situation.
Tenant Screening Laws
Whether you are renting out or you are the one in search of a new place to stay, you should strive to update yourself with the latest rental rights and obligations.
Keep in mind as well that rental laws often differ from state to state. So aside from checking the federal rules, remember to check what are your local government requirements.
For a start, the tenant credit and background check that you conduct or undergo should respect and follow:
- Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) — a federal law that secures the accuracy, righteousness, and privacy of the data in consumer credit bureau files. The law controls the way credit reporting agencies and background check companies collect, use, and distribute personal information.
- Fair Housing Act — a legal document that protects tenants’ rights by prohibiting any sort of discrimination during the sale, renting, or any other housing-related activity. According to it, no discrimination based on someones’ race, color, sex, disability, familial status, religion, or national origin shall be tolerated.
- HUD — which enables renting an apartment with a criminal record possible. HUD mandates that policies excluding tenants with offender history must have a legal base. Furthermore, they should get tailored so as to serve the landlords’ legitimate and nondiscriminatory interests. Among the other things, the severity of the crime and the time since the conviction should make a difference.
As a property owner, whenever possible, choose a background screening agency that applies these laws. This will protect you from unwanted tenant issues or even lawsuits.
On the other hand, as a tenant, you can always call upon these if you feel that your rights are breached in any way. Remember, no individual or agency can perform a rental background check without the renter’s consent.
Tenant Screening Red Flags
You now know what does a rental background check consist of, right? We’ve also looked into the pertaining laws. So, let’s go over the tenant screening red flags you should be mindful about.
Moreover, we will share advice on how to avoid them.
1. Criminal record with serious or repetitive offenses
As we mentioned earlier, the law obliges you not to discriminate against people renting with a felony record. However, no law binds you to accept a tenant with a violent criminal past or repetitive offenses (even if minor violations or misdemeanors). On the contrary, it is highly unlikely for someone prone to repeating a crime to be a suitable tenant candidate.
2. Eviction history
When browsing through rental history reports, coming across a singular eviction case shouldn’t immediately raise the alarm. A valid excuse for this may exist. However, if your future tenant got evicted more than once, this certainly is a red flag. The same goes if the reasons for eviction were payment issues or lack of respect for the basic rental ground rules.
3. Frequent relocations
Even though we live in a society of world travelers and digital nomads, exorbitantly frequent relocations in someone’s tenant background screening report can be a red flag. A person changing their address frequently may not necessarily have bad intentions. However, this type of tenant can cause you a lot of disruptions.
4. Dispersed employment history
Who wants to spend a lifetime working on the same dead-end job? Probably no one. Reasonable career changes and fast promotions are often proof of someone’s dedication and ambitions. Besides, they go hand in hand with high income. However, if a person’s employment history includes too many unrelated jobs and frequent changes, this person may not be very reliable.
5. Low or no income
Most background checks for renters include employment verification and income check. The aim is to identify candidates that aren’t likely to meet the payment requirements. What’s more, some applicants have no current job or income and are applying based on the promise of getting it. These applicants belong to some of the riskiest tenant groups.
6. Poor credit report
A credit check for renters can tell you a lot about people, among other things — are they able to handle their income and financial responsibilities. A poor credit report includes a lower than 600 score and unbalanced payments. Both of these could be eliminatory factors when choosing a tenant.
7. No references
Who is that person with no or poor previous landlord references? You may not find out until it’s too late. Even if it is their first time renting an apartment, try getting another sort of reference, such as employment or education.
8. Blanks in tenant background check form
Rental background check forms are there to reduce the landlord’s selection efforts. However, a person leaving intentional or accidental blanks can reverse all the good work. Furthermore, this could be a sign of that candidate’s lack of responsibility or interest in the apartment. Worst case scenario — they might be hiding something.
9. Overboard urgency
Unexpected life situations and tragedies can happen. People lose their jobs and flats for various reasons. But if someone gets too persuasive or insists too much on the urgency of their moving in, without providing you with any valid argument for this, it’s a red flag.
Your applicant claims something, but the tenant credit and background checks disprove it, try a face-to-face interview and seek explanations. If you’re not happy with the answers or the candidate seems dishonest, better choose another person. To solve any potential future difficulties, honesty and transparency between you and your tenant are essential.
How to Pass a Tenant and Apartment Background Check?
Here are some tips on how to pass your tenant checks. And how to avoid the most common red flags appearing on them.
1. Run a background check on yourself
The best way to learn what shows up on a rental background check is to run it on yourself. Even more importantly, this way, you’ll get to discover what the landlords see about you. Most tenant screening platforms nowadays enable you to perform self screenings effortlessly.
2. Spot irregularities, mistakes, and weak points of your background report
What is a background check if not a tool for spotting strengths and shortcomings?
Once you get your report, try being as objective as possible about both.
Also, if possible, try making some advancements to it. Of course, you can’t change some facts like your employment or education history. However, you can make efforts to improve your credit score or seek some additional references.
3. Do the necessary corrections
Tenant screening background check agencies are not inerrable. Mix-up of files and even whole identities happen more often than not. If you spot any, make sure to inform the agency. They will rectify the mistakes for you. This could by far increase your renting chances.
4. Be honest with your landlord
Rental and apartment interviews are sometimes more significant than any background reports. Try leaving the best possible impression on your landlord, but don’t exaggerate. Lying about your education, income, or credit score can only backfire once your rental application background check arrives.
5. Ask for feedback
Even if your tenant screening doesn’t go as expected and you get rejected, try not to get disappointed. Instead, ask your interviewer — what are areas in which you could improve? And, what could you do better next time?
How Long Does a Background Check Take for an Apartment?
Well, that really depends.
You can decide to conduct a background check yourself, the old-school way. Or, you can hire a professional agency. The time invested in each method will very much differ.
How to do a background check — is completely up to you. However, keep in mind these facts.
The DIY way
Performing a renter background check on your own may seem a more cost-effective option at first. However, the effort invested and time consumption are so significant that, by the end of the day, the total cost may exceed the costs of hiring the professionals.
Choosing the DIY strategy means you’ll personally have to call or visit various institutions and establishments. These include courts, firms, previous landlords, and, with young candidates, even schools of your future tenant.
But that’s not all to it. You will have to organize data and create files for each candidate to make the final comparison and selection. This whole tenant background and credit checks process could take days, weeks, or even months.
Also, keep in mind that you might have to leave your job during working hours to get the information from the state offices. This could cause additional losses and expenses. Not to mention the loss of not having a tenant during the whole process.
These are all the expenses to put on paper before deciding between the DIY strategy and hiring an expert.
Hiring third-party professionals
If you hire a professional background check agency to perform your credit and background check for tenants, you may get each of the reports for half an hour on average.
Believe it or not, there are even companies that promise to complete your checks within a few minutes. Most of the time, they live up to their promise.
Companies that perform a more thorough background check on tenants can take up to three business days at maximum. Which is still nothing compared to how much time you’d spend if you’d have to do all the searches personally.
How Much Does This Type of Screening Cost?
Some online service providers promise you free background checks. However, more often than not, these are not very reliable. Moreover, sometimes they are on the verge of being illegal or include fraudulent activities. We do not recommend these service providers.
Still, hiring a professional background screening company to run background and credit check for renters doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.
You can spend only a couple of dollars on individual background checks and reports. Or you can subscribe for complete tenant screenings and packages that are usually more expensive — the choice is yours.
Companies like TenantAlert offer you membership plans that enable you unlimited checks for a reasonable $30.
If you prefer paying for each background check service separately, opt for a screening company such as RentPrep that offers affordable individual services.
Finally, some online platforms like TurboTenant cost slightly more. However, they offer quite handy additional services. Aside from a comprehensive background check for tenants, with TurboTenant, you can make great use of online advertisements. On top of that, you can use the platform to automatically collect tenant payments each month.
All this — starting from $35 a month.
So, what does a rental background check consist of? — It varies from case to case. Some landlords care only about the credit and criminal history of their future tenants, while others insist on an exhaustive background inspection.
Still, in most cases, a standard background check for tenant screening purposes includes:
- criminal records check
- rental history verification
- employment verification and history
- credit history inspection
- other public records checks
To pass your background check for apartment rental, be aware of background check red flags and prepare to counteract and clarify yours.
As a landlord, always leave some benefit of the doubt when screening tenants, and give them space to explain themselves.
Of course, if something seems fishy or you catch a candidate lying, better move on to the next candidate.
The simplest and fastest way to check the rental history of a person is to hire an adequate tenant screening company. Preferably choose one that is FCRA compliant.
Depending on the state you live in, your criminal history report may go up to seven or ten years back.
If you have a felony on your record, report it to your landlord. Most likely, they will find out about it in each case, and it is better if they hear it from you. In that case, you can provide some additional explanations as well. Besides, they will appreciate your honesty.
Bad rental history can range from an unsatisfactory renter credit check to a major criminal offenses report.
While not looking pretty in a renter check report, misdemeanors should not prevent you from a rental approval. In fact, laws such as the Fair Housing Act forbid any potential discriminatory landlords’ actions. Still, it all boils down to the misdemeanor circumstantial factors and your landlord’s goodwill.
A rental credit report will not typically contain evictions. However, if there is an eviction case, it may appear elsewhere in a rental pre-screening. For example, it may show up in the rental history report. You can find more on — what does a rental background check consist of — in the body of this article.
No, according to the FCRA, no landlord should run a background check without a candidate’s permission.