How Are Tenant Screening and Background Check Different?

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Updated · Aug 01, 2023

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With more than five years of experience in the background check industry, Ritesh Kumar founded Looku... | See full bio

Lorie Tonogbanua
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Lorie Tonogbanua


Lorie Tonogbanua
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Lorie Tonogbanua

Lorie is an English Language and Literature graduate passionate about writing, research, and learnin... | See full bio

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First-time landlords quickly learn they need a thorough screening process to ensure they pick a responsible applicant who will take care of the property.

But how are tenant screening and background check different? First of all, a background check is the umbrella term for any investigation of a person’s past. Conversely, a tenant screening is a specific type of check designed to evaluate prospective tenants.

Below, we review everything they include and when to use them!

What Is a Background Check?

When used in its broad term, a background check signifies screening for all sorts of purposes, from checking employee qualifications to verifying loan and tenant eligibility. When done thoroughly, background checks include any or all of the following information:

  • Identity verifications—confirms an individual's true identity and date of birth and discover aliases and names they have used in the past;
  • Social Security number checks—checks whether or not the person has a valid Social Security number assigned by the Social Security Administration;
  • Address (rental) histories—reviews the applicant’s address history, i.e., every location at which they have lived, either as owners or tenants;
  • Social media identities—scours the person’s social media profiles to determine the extent of their online presence and activities;
  • Medical background checks—reveals the patient’s health and medication history, which is required for most medical examinations and procedures;
  • Criminal records—looks for misdemeanor and felony law violations and convictions, as well as past history of incarceration;
  • Driving records—reveals the driver’s expertise, licenses and endorsements they hold, and whether or not they have accrued any traffic penalties;
  • Employment histories—reports an individual’s work history, with detailed dates and positions, as well as their current employment and paycheck;
  • Credit reports—covers the applicant’s credit score and payment history, as well as any bankruptcies, judgments, or tax liens on file;
  • Educational backgrounds—goes through a person’s educational history to reveal what they studied and whether they obtained any certifications;

Common situations that require a background check include finding a lost relative or friend, checking out a potential date or professional interest, applying for a job, apartment, or a loan, purchasing a firearm, and even undergoing a medical procedure.

Furthermore, background checks are separated into several types depending on their purpose, each focusing on a specific aspect of a person’s past. For example, landlords only need to verify a tenant will respect the property and pay rent on time.

What Does a Tenant Screening Consist Of?

Landlords use tenant screenings to verify the suitability of potential candidates to rent their property. Therefore, these types of checks focus on the following aspects:

  • Identity verification—an absolutely necessary step as the applicant’s name and date of birth are required to complete all subsequent checks;
  • Credit report—these provide owners with the tenant’s financial history, creditworthiness, and ability to pay rent on time;
  • Rental history—also crucial for determining tenants’ eligibility as it shows how many addresses they have changed in the past and whether or not they kept the property in good condition, submitted payments on time, and were ever evicted;
  • Employment data—proof of income and employment information are necessary to determine whether or not the tenant receives a steady paycheck;
  • Criminal history—landlords may deny prospective tenants with a criminal record if they believe they pose a risk to them, the property, and other rentees;
  • Personal references—used to remove lingering doubts about a potential applicant since past renters, co-workers, supervisors, and employers can testify about a person’s character and sense of responsibility;

As you can see, the difference between a tenant screening and a background check is in the scope and focus of the conducted research. While tenant screenings focus on the applicant’s financial history, background checks cover every aspect of a person’s past.

If you are unsure how to complete the tenant screening process, go through our thorough guide covering everything from legal considerations to applicable prices, or hire an experienced tenant screening service who can do the job for you for a minor fee.

Background Check vs. Tenant Screening: When Do You Need Them?

As evident from the previous sections, background checks are used by individuals, employers, and government agencies for all sorts of purposes, from verifying a person’s identity and past behavior to confirming their eligibility for a product or a job.

On the other hand, tenant screenings are a very focused type of check needed to confirm whether or not prospective tenants can care for the property, pay rent regularly, obey the law, and fulfill any other stipulations of their renting contract.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the tenant screening and background check difference relates to the extent and purpose of the investigation. Namely, tenant screenings are a distinct type of background check conducted to verify a tenant’s viability to rent a property respectfully. In contrast, the generic term ‘background check’ covers every type of check into a person’s past.


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