Getting Your Landlord’s Background Check

When you are a landlord considering an applicant for tenancy, you must review several factors. You must consider points like current and past employment, income and savings and banking and credit accounts.

Additional factors to consider also include past residential history, lifestyle factors and personal, professional and housing references for your potential tenants. A thorough tenant screening process is not complete without a criminal background check. Fortunately, getting a landlord’s background check is as simple a process as it is an essential one.

Background checks include searches of local, state and federal criminal and sex offender data. There are more than 700 sources of such data and approximately 300 million criminal records alone included in a complete background check. Landlords have many potential services to employ to search these sources. While this may seem like a breach of privacy, the information you uncover is protected by the federal Landlord and Tenant Act. Performing a background check is standard procedure for landlords, so it should not come as a surprise to tenants. If your tenant objects to you performing a background check, it is possible he or she is hiding something.

Background Check Benefits

As a landlord, there are many reasons why you need to conduct a background check on potential tenants. Ensuring your potential tenants do not have a history of violence or criminal activity ensures the safety of yourself, your neighbors and your community. You also help ensure you keep property secure.

Related Article: Your Landlords Responsibilities

Background checks can help protect you from legal liability caused by violence or criminal activity occurring on your property. You can use the information in a background check to verify claims made on tenant applications. Just by requiring a background check as part of your tenant screening process, you discourage any applicants with something significant to hide from applying.

Get Tenant Authorization

To get a background check run on an applicant for tenancy, you need to get his or her permission to order the check. The applicant must also provide you his or her Social Security number. While most criminal records do not include SSNs, it is used to verify the applicant’s identity. Other information required to get a criminal background check on a potential tenant include:

  • Birth date.
  • Address.
  • Middle name or initial (optional, but helpful).

The background check authorization can be included in your rental application or on a separate document. Either way, it must explicitly state the applicant understands a background check is conducted while considering his or her prospective tenancy. You can find sample rental applications and customizable templates online or pick up a blank application from your local realty organization.

Choose a Provider

To order a background check on a person, choose an agency to run the check for you. When comparing background check services, look for ones pulling data from as much of the following sources as possible:

  • Local and state misdemeanor and felony records.
  • Public state sex offender registries.
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
  • Marshals Service.
  • Secret Service.
  • Treasure Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Each background check provider sets its own rates for its own selection of services. Compare multiple providers to find what you consider a fair value. When looking at prices, make sure you take into consideration what is included in the background check. If you pick the cheapest service available, you may end up with limited information compared to a more expensive agency.

Fees

The prices different background check services offer is based largely on the agency you employ. For example, the following are the price ranges for some common searches if conducted on your own individually:

  • National Criminal Database or Criminal Background Search – $3 to $20.
  • National Sex Offender records – $2 to $5.
  • Federal Criminal records – $7 to $15.
  • State Criminal records – $6 to $20 plus a $3 to $65 repository access fee.
  • OFAC Terrorist Watch List – $1 to $5.

Background and Credit Check Packages

Some landlord background check providers also provide landlord credit checks, including credit reporting agencies TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Credit checks are also invaluable tenant screening tools for landlords. If you choose a single organization to provide both services, check to see if there are any discounted package prices available. Some agencies may even offer group packages, if you must perform background checks on multiple tenants at a time.

Records to Include

Criminal records are not the only records to search in a thorough background check. You want to check prior evictions to see if the potential tenant meets his or her rental obligations. Not all evictions are grounds to reject an applicant. However, if an applicant has a repeated history of being evicted, it is in your best interest to ask what happened in these circumstances.

Background checks also search public records for civil lawsuits. Again, involvement in a civil lawsuit is not necessarily cause to decline an application. If an applicant is a repeat plaintiff or defendant, sued for lack of payment, breaking a contract or child support issues, it may be cause for concern. As a landlord, it is your right to reject an unsuitable tenant, and finding red flags in a background check is a legitimate cause.

Analyzing Background Checks

Once you get your background check, using it properly to help you make informed decisions is essential. If you find a red flag in an applicant’s background check, consider how recently the event occurred, how severe the activity was, how relevant to tenancy and how many red flags appeared. Even if the applicant has no criminal record, remember background checks are only one part of your larger screening process. Take every factor into account when making your decisions on whether you want to accept a tenant. If an item shows up you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask your tenant for more information. If you have too strict of requirements for your applicants, you may end up being unable to rent your property.

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