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Tenant Background Screening FAQ

Screening prospective tenants is one way landlords and property owners can reduce the risks of renting. Bad tenants can cost landlords time and money in repairs, court costs, and criminal liability. Screening offers landlords peace of mind as they make informed decisions for their rental property.

Landlords have several tools to help them select the best tenant for their property. This article explores some of these tools through frequently asked questions about tenant background screening.

How Can I Legally Screen Tenants?

The first step in effectively screening prospective tenants is a rental application. Every prospective renter should complete an application that includes the following information:

  • Legal name and any aliases
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number (SSN)
  • Driver's license number and state of issue
  • Recent employment history
  • Current income and income verification
  • Previous landlords
  • Past evictions
  • Past bankruptcies
  • Criminal history, including misdemeanor and felony convictions

If the landlord intends to use a consumer report as part of the screening process, the rental application must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The rental application should include a disclosure advising applicants of their rights under the FCRA.

Information provided on the application is a starting point for a tenant screening process. The landlord can screen the applicant themselves or use a tenant screening company or a real estate agent if the agent is helping them find a tenant.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Tenant Background Check Service?

Although landlords can screen tenants independently, a thorough rental background check is time-consuming. Tenant background check services can save landlords time and money. These companies can do the following:

  • Run a credit report
  • Check credit scores
  • Check criminal records and criminal reports
  • Check sex offender registries
  • Check eviction filings

One benefit of using a tenant screening service is the final background report the company prepares. The report provides the landlord with all the information they need in one document.

What Is a Tenant Screening Report?

A tenant screening report or background report compiles all the information the screening service uncovered in the tenant background check. A comprehensive tenant history report should include the following:

  • Eviction history
  • Eviction records
  • Rental history
  • Payment history
  • Criminal history
  • Address history

Can a Landlord Reject a Tenant Based on Their Credit Report?

Yes, a landlord can reject a prospective tenant based on their credit report. Each landlord can set nondiscriminatory standards for approving or denying a rental application. An applicant's credit is just one aspect of the screening process. Still, a tenant with a poor history of paying bills often raises a red flag with questions about their ability to make rent payments in full and on time.

The landlord must tell the applicant if they made an adverse decision based on the applicant's credit report. If so, they must also provide the name of the credit bureau or bureaus that provided the negative information.

Landlords can use a screening company or request the applicant's credit report directly from a major credit bureau. The three major bureaus:

Each credit bureau has procedures for getting a full credit report. Landlords should check with each bureau for specific steps.

To begin a credit check, landlords need the following basic information from their potential tenant:

  • Name
  • Physical address
  • Social Security number

What Is a Tenant Reference Check?

Checking a tenant's references is an essential part of the background search. Most rental applications ask for a previous landlord's contact information. Landlords can use this information to contact the former landlord and ask about their experience with the tenant. Previous landlords can provide information about the prospective tenant's payment history and how the tenant treated the apartment or other property.

What Are Some Illegal Reasons to Reject a Tenant?

Federal and state fair housing law prohibits discrimination in the tenant background screening process. Landlords cannot make adverse rental decisions based on protected characteristics, including:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Family status

Some states also prohibit property owners from refusing to rent to a tenant for the following:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Other unique characteristics

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot do the following:

  • End a tenancy for a discriminatory reason
  • Set different terms for tenants, such as having different income requirements
  • Refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation for disabled people
  • Advertise a preference for certain groups, such as groups based on race or gender
  • Claim that an available rental unit is unavailable to certain applicants

What Are Some Valid Reasons to Reject a Tenant?

Property managers and landlords must select a tenant for reasonable, business-related reasons. Valid reasons to reject a tenant include:

  • Poor credit history
  • Unpaid liens
  • Information on a criminal background check
  • Insufficient income
  • Prior misconduct

They should also apply the same standards to all applicants and keep documentation to support their decision. Potential documentation includes the following:

  • Tenant applications
  • Tenant credit reports
  • Eviction reports

Get Help

Tenant screening is an important part of the rental process. A local landlord-tenant attorney can help you navigate relevant federal and local laws. Find an experienced landlord-tenant attorney near you to clarify your rights and responsibilities.

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