How to Run a Background Check on a Tenant

Daniel Attoe
Daniel Attoe

Updated · Aug 15, 2022

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If you’re a landlord, it's important to be cautious about who you let into your property. A simple Google search can tell a lot about a person, but it can't always give you the full story. That's where background checks come in. 

Unfortunately, most landlords don’t know how to run a background check on a prospective tenant

If that shoe fits, don’t worry. We have you covered. Soon, you will know all about this essential procedure, its benefits, and the processes involved. 

What Is a Background Check?

A background check is a process a person or company uses to verify an individual is who they claim to be. They can do this by: 

  • looking through public records
  • internet searches
  • or by speaking with references 

Employers often use background checks to ensure that new hires are honest about the qualifications they say they have. Individuals considering entering a personal relationship can check on potential partners. And a landlord can run checks on tenants

Ultimately, a background check is a way to obtain peace of mind and ensure that you make a safe and informed decision.

Benefits of Running a Background Check

Landlords can ensure they rent to responsible, law-abiding citizens by running a background check on potential tenants. 

Tenant screening services can reveal a wide range of information about an individual, including: 

  • their criminal history
  • credit score
  • and rental history

This information can be invaluable in deciding whether to rent to someone or not. 

In addition to protecting your property, background checks for renters can also help to protect your other tenants. Only renting to people with a good rental history can help ensure they will be respectful of your property and their fellow residents. 

In short, background checks offer a host of benefits for both landlords and tenants. Running a background check on every potential tenant is well worth your time and money as a landlord.

How to Run a Background Check on a Tenant?

Here’s how to screen tenants before renting:

Learn the Law

Before you run a background check on a tenant, it's essential to understand the relevant local law. In the United States, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes rules for conducting background checks, and landlords who don't follow these rules can get sued. 

To avoid legal problems, ensure you understand the FCRA regulations before you begin the screening process.

As a landlord, you have a right to know who is renting your property. However, it's important to note that you can't run a renters’ check without written consent from the applicant. This is because such checks often involve personal information, such as Social Security numbers and date of birth.

Failure to do so could violate the applicant's privacy rights and lead to legal consequences.

Gather Information

In order to get the whole picture, you will need to ask your potential tenant to provide the following information:

  • Name and date of birth: this will allow you to run a criminal background check, giving you information on past convictions or arrests. 
  • Address and Social Security number: you’ll need these to run a credit check, which will give you an idea of the individual's financial history and ability to pay rent on time. 
  • References from previous landlords or employers: they will help you verify the individual's employment status and previous rental history.

Requesting a Credit Report

Credit reports and background checks for tenants go hand in hand. Contact a credit reporting agency to request one and provide the individual's name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. It will then generate a report that includes information on the individual's credit history. 

This report can help determine whether or not a potential tenant is likely to pay their rent on time and follow the terms of the lease agreement.

Decide on a Background Check Service

A background check service can help identify potential red flags in an applicant's history. They are quick and easy to use, and some are even free. 

But with so many background checks for renters out there, how do you know which one to choose? Keep in mind these factors:

  • Type of information you need: some services will only provide primary data like criminal records and credit scores. Others will offer more detailed reports on rental history, employment history, and more. Decide what's most important to you and look for a service that specializes in that information.
  • Turnaround time: if you're in a hurry to fill a vacancy, you'll need a service that can provide fast results. However, if speed isn't as important to you, you may be able to save money by choosing a less expensive option that takes a little longer.
  • Cost: background check services can range from free to ones that cost several hundred dollars. Once again, consider what's most important to you and choose a provider that fits your budget. 

Should You Run a Criminal Background Check?

Federal and state laws govern the process of running a criminal background check for tenants

The FCRA is a federal law that determines how consumer reporting agencies can collect, use, and publish information about consumers. Under this law, landlords must obtain a consumer's permission before acquiring a consumer report. 

On the other hand, state laws vary. For example, some states require landlords to give advance notice before conducting a criminal background check for renters. Additionally, some states limit the types of convictions that can affect rental decisions. 

How Much Is a Tenant Background Check?

Several factors affect the price of a tenant background check:

  • the scope of the search: a basic background check usually includes a criminal record search and eviction history. A more comprehensive check might also include a credit check and employment verification. 
  • the size of the search area: a nationwide search will be more expensive than a local one. 
  • the speed of the search: a same-day search will be more costly than one lasting a few days. 

Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $50 for a basic leasing background check. More comprehensive assessments might cost $100 or more. Others, like RentSpree, use a subscription model. 

What Shows up on a Background Check for Renting?

Here are some things you can expect to watch out for in a background search:

SSN Trace 

The SSN trace checks the tenant's Social Security number against a national database of over 400 million records. It lets the landlord know if the number is associated with any evictions, bankruptcies, etc.

Prior evictions are an interesting metric to look out for in a house rental background check. This is because they can signify financial instability or disruptive behavior. If your potential tenant has had several evictions in the past, you may want to stay away.

Sex Offender Results

These results show whether or not the tenant is a registered sex offender. This is important because it can help the landlord to assess the safety risks posed by the tenant.

US and Foreign Sanctions and Watchlists

Financial sanctions or criminal activity in the tenant's past are enormous red flags for any landlord. If they show up in a background check for rental property, results from sanctions and watchlists can help eliminate the risk of leasing to a tenant who is a wanted criminal.

This background check can provide landlords with valuable information about an applicant's criminal history. A national criminal search will typically examine local, state, and national databases. This information can help landlords identify applicants convicted of serious offenses, such as violence or drug-related crimes.

Wrap Up

As a landlord, it's important to know how to screen tenants. Background checks help avoid tenants who may have a history of not paying rent or have been involved in criminal activity. 

That way, you ultimately protect your property, investment, and other tenants.

FAQ.


Can a landlord run a background check without permission?

In most cases, a landlord is not allowed to run a renters’ check without permission. 

That said, some states have laws that allow landlords to run background checks without permission under particular circumstances. This usually includes situations when the landlord has reason to believe that the tenant is involved in criminal activity. In more extreme cases, a landlord may be able to obtain a search warrant from the police. 

What do landlords look for in background checks?

A background check can help provide information about a potential tenant's rental history, employment stability, and creditworthiness. Landlords may also look for any evictions or criminal records.

Do landlords do background checks?

Yes, landlords can learn how to run a background check on a tenant. They can use free or premium specialized services, depending on the scope they aim to cover.

Does an eviction show up on a background check?

Eviction records are public information in some states but not in others. In general, an eviction will only appear on a background check if the landlord filed an official complaint with the court and a judge ordered the removal of the tenant from the property.

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Daniel Attoe

Daniel Attoe

Daniel is an Economics grad who fell in love with tech. His love for books and reading pushed him into picking up the pen - and keyboard. Also a data analyst, he's taking that leap into data science and machine learning. When not writing or studying, chances are that you'll catch him watching football or face-deep in an epic fantasy novel.

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