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Tenant Background Checks (What Every Landlord Must Know)

You recognize that tenant screening and operating tenant background checks are two of your most essential jobs as a landlord.  It typically makes the difference between success and failure within the rental property business.  However have you learnt what features to search for in tenant background checks?

I assumed tenant background checks have been pretty much all the identical
until I did some investigating. 
It’s essential to understand how tenant background examine providers work and
their limitations.

On this article I will:

  • Clarify the
    differences between tenant credit score stories and tenant background checks
  • Describe the
    several types of tenant background verify providers
  • Assessment the
    execs and cons of each sort of tenant background examine service
  • Inform you what
    options you need in a tenant background examine report and tips on how to use them

Credit score Report Versus Tenant Background Checks

In addition to asking necessary tenant screening questions
(hyperlink), your course of for vetting potential tenants should embrace two important

  • Tenant Credit score Report
  • Tenant Background Checks

Study more about every of these essential landlord tools under.

Credit score Report

Most landlords are acquainted with tenant credit studies.  I don’t know any landlord who rents an condominium with out, at the very least, operating a tenant credit score report.  However again, not all tenant credit stories are equal and there is a lot of confusion between the several types of scores.

What Does A
Tenant Credit Report Inform You?

A tenant credit score report is designed to predict a potential tenant’s rental cost performance.  Will they pay their lease on time, each time?

Right here’s an example tenant credit score report from TransUnion:

Sample tenant credit report from TransUnion

There are three important elements of a typical tenant credit

  • Tenant
  • Credit Score
  • Credit score
    Historical past

Landlords want to use all of this info to make an informed determination.

How To Use A Tenant Credit score Report?


Sample tenant credit report identifying information from Experian

It is advisable to be sure to are reviewing the credit score worthiness of
the individual you’ll be renting to.  
This section of a tenant credit report usually consists of your
applicant’s identify, aliases, recognized addresses and where they work.  You need to cross examine this info
towards their software and inquire about any discrepancies.

Depending on the tenant credit score reporting service you select, you
may additionally get the tenant’s date of start and Social Security quantity.  Most depart this personal info
off and simply inform in case you the SSN matches their inner data associated
with this individual.

In the above example professional report from Experian, you possibly can see an applicant’s “best match” information long with “other” information that could be older and not match the present information offered by the applicant.

Credit Rating

Sample tenant credit score from Cozy and ExperianSample Tenant Credit score Report from Cozy Providers

A tenant’s credit score score is meant to be a short hand for
understanding their capability to pay the month-to-month lease persistently.  Nevertheless, all credit scores will not be the

It’s too difficult to get into the small print on this article however
it is best to know that every credit reporting bureau has their very own method of scoring
tenants.  These proprietary scores
are designed to be extra significant to landlords because they are designed
particularly to measure tenant credit score performance. In any case, paying lease every
month is totally different than opening up a credit card.

And these scores usually are not the identical as a tenant’s FICO score.

Don’t be confused.  It’s straightforward to know which sort of rating you are looking at and make an informed determination.  Tenant credit score reviews usually inform you where the score comes from.  It’s often from a serious credit score bureau until it specifically says it’s a FICO score.

What’s A Good Tenant Credit score Rating?

Only you possibly can finally determine what is an effective tenant credit score score however most landlords I know wish to see a score of 650 or greater.

Here’s a distribution chart of credit scores in response to Experian:

Distribution of VantageScores by ExperianDistribution of VantageScores by Experian


You must all the time get a tenant credit report that includes a detailed credit history.  The satan is within the details as they are saying.

RentPrep Sample Tenant Credit HistoryRentPrep Pattern Tenant Credit History

All the time evaluation the historical past. 
By no means rely on a score alone.

Credit histories often embrace:

  • Detailed credit accounts and cost history
  • Credit score Inquiries
  • Unfavorable public data akin to liens

PRO TIP:  A prospective tenant’s credit historical past consists of the essential info that tells you if your tenant can and can pay their lease! Never settle for a tenant based mostly solely on their credit score score.  All the time take a look at their detailed credit score historical past too.

Background Checks

In an effort to correctly display your tenants, it is advisable to go beyond a credit score verify.  A tenant background verify must be a part of each landlord’s tenant screening course of!

Does A Tenant Background Verify Inform You?

Tenant background checks will reveal many potential points that
might trigger you to disclaim a prospective tenant.  Issues reminiscent of felony data, too many addresses in a
brief time, or revenue that’s totally different than what was reported by the tenant
may be purple flag indicators of a potential drawback tenant.

Nevertheless, not all tenant background verify providers are the identical.  You’ll want to know who is operating the verify, where they get their knowledge and the bounds of the knowledge offered.

& Cons Of Totally different Tenant Background Examine Providers

You possibly can classify tenant background verify providers a number of
alternative ways. Each sort comes with a number of trade-offs.  No sort of tenant background examine service
is ideal.  They all have
limitations.  Depending on your
needs, nevertheless, some could be higher for you than others.

Probably the most significant differences in tenant background examine providers are found between Immediate and Guide providers.  See how they examine under.

On the spot Tenant Background Checks

Instant tenant background check service provider logos on a laptop screen

On the spot tenant background examine providers are extensively in style as a result of they will return a background report in minutes. They match a prospective tenant based mostly on the email you present and the personal info the potential tenant offers.  Once they have a match, they pull all the knowledge they’ve towards that match and serve up a tenant background report.

PROS CONS Fast turnaround minimizes
emptiness Can’t search certain states Tenant-initiated, “soft” credit score pulls No accuracy verify Often an choice for Tenant to pay instantly Can’t be run with no Social
Safety Number Minimal telephone help

Execs of Immediate Tenant Background Checks

Turnaround – The fast turnaround time means you aren’t ready days for a
tenant background examine report with an empty rental.

Mushy Credit Inquiries – Prompt credit score stories are often tenant-initiated making them a ‘soft’ inquiry, which won’t impression the applicant’s credit rating.

Tenant Pays – There’s
often an choice for the owner to move this value on on to the tenant
as properly.  This is probably not legal in
your state so make sure you examine first.

Cons of Immediate Tenant Background Checks

Lacking Information – There are 5 states that don’t permit direct entry to their databases for fast searches including Wyoming, Delaware, South Dakota, Colorado and Massachusetts.  In case you are doing in enterprise in or around these states then you definitely shouldn’t use an immediate tenant screening service.

No High quality Examine – There isn’t anyone reviewing the tenant background report for errors and omissions.  You need to ensure you are taking a look at a background verify in your applicant and not someone else.  Moreover, you don’t need to reject an applicant based mostly on a false constructive or using older (and probably illegal) info.

SS# Required – Most immediate tenant background checks cannot be run with out the applicant’s Social Security number.  That’s because this is the first technique of matching an applicant to their personal knowledge within the huge databases.  In case your tenant doesn’t have a US Social Safety number, then you will have to make use of a guide background examine service.

Minimal Help – Lastly, immediate tenant background checks will often not come with telephone help if you’ll want to get a hold of somebody.  You’ll usually have to make use of a Contact type or e-mail.

Guide Tenant Background Checks

Office workers running a manual tenant background check

Guide tenant background examine providers boast that they provide a radical tenant background search as a result of they research the potential tenant manually.  These tenant background examine providers run prompt studies that pull from the same databases as the moment providers do.

Nevertheless, the primary distinction is that the guide providers then verify the knowledge and verify it for accuracy.

Full state searches Takes hours to days to finish
Accuracy checked Often Landlord paid
FCRA compliant report Can’t run detailed credit stories
Can name employers and landlords
Weekend telephone help

Execs Of Guide Tenant Background Checks

Full Search – Guide tenant background examine providers are capable of search all state data as a result of they perform the search manually

High quality Control – They are additionally capable of evaluate the info that immediate databases return and confirm it towards other knowledge to make sure it’s right and FCRA compliant

Verification – Guide
tenant background verify providers can name to confirm info akin to employment
and prior landlord references

Telephone Help – You possibly can
reach somebody when you could, typically with weekend hours

Cons Of Guide Tenant Background Checks

Turnaround – One of the leading guide background examine providers claims to
be capable of turn round many reviews in an hour.  Some take up to a day or longer.  That additional time costs cash in lost lease.

Landlord Paid – These providers sometimes don’t contain the tenant so there isn’t an choice to cost your applicant immediately.

No Credit Report – These providers won’t return a full credit score report though many resell credit studies from one of many massive knowledge collectors for an added charge.

In A Tenant Background Verify Report?

Whereas tenant credit score reviews tend to include comparable info regardless of the service, tenant background verify stories can differ extensively relying on which service you choose.

Here’s a listing of the most typical things you’ll be able to look forward to finding in a tenant background verify report.

Legal Background

criminal history in tenant background checks

A felony historical past search is a must-have in any tenant background examine.  Your search should embrace a national search especially in case your rental borders several states.  On the spot tenant background providers can’t run a verify in all states because of restrictions in some states.

Be certain your tenant backgrounds verify service searches your state and surrounding states before purchasing a report.  In case your rental is in or neighboring Wyoming, Delaware, South Dakota, Colorado, and Massachusetts, you might need to go together with a guide tenant background service or supplement an immediate examine with a DIY examine in these states.

County vs. Nationwide vs. Federal Searches

There isn’t any single database with all legal data. As an alternative, tenant background checks rely on a network of databases to accurately determine any felony data associated together with your potential tenant.

County Felony Data

Usually, most legal activity is recorded on the county degree so these are likely to have probably the most info. But not all county degree knowledge is recorded at the state degree in each state. There are 3,142 counties in the US based on Wikipedia.

No tenant background search will decide all of those up so to be very thorough it is best to embrace a search of the legal data in the counties the place the applicant has lived.

Federal Legal Searches

Not to be confused with a “national” search, Federal legal searches are targeted on federal crimes. All such legal data are housed in one database. This database will are likely to cowl fraud, financial institution robberies, and large-scale drug trafficking which are coated by federal jurisdictions.

On Utilizing Tenant Felony History In Housing Selections

Every landlord must be operating a felony background examine on their tenants.  That a lot is obvious.  But how are you supposed to make use of that info?  To what extent can you base your choice on the knowledge you discover?  This isn’t as clear.  Listed here are some issues to think about.

Can I Use Legal History In Housing Selections?

Yes. Landlords can use a tenant’s legal history as the idea for denying an applicant as a result of criminals are usually not a protected class underneath the Truthful Housing Act. Nevertheless, HUD has issued steerage limiting how you should use this info in housing selections.

In accordance with HUD, “While the (FHA) doesn’t prohibit housing providers from appropriately considering legal history info when making

housing selections, arbitrary and overbroad legal history-related bans are more likely to lack a legally enough justification.”

In different phrases – you better have a very good purpose and never have an excessively broad strategy.

Convictions vs. Arrests

Some tenant background verify providers report anything your tenant has been charged with, not simply crimes that led to a conviction. While this is good info to know, you could be careful utilizing this info when making housing selections.

Furthermore, HUD says “A housing provider with a policy or practice of excluding individuals because of one or more prior arrests (without any conviction) cannot satisfy its burden of showing that such policy or practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.”

In other phrases – you possibly can’t think about arrests that do not end in convictions.

Consistency Is Key

Be constant in your process and selections. You can’t use the knowledge or apply a unique process for different protected courses of applicants. Right here is an example of a violation:

“A housing provider rejected an Hispanic applicant based on his criminal record, but admitted a non-Hispanic White applicant with a comparable criminal record.”

What’s the bottom line for us landlords? We should always know what felony data our tenant background verify provider is reporting and have a consistent, truthful course of that complies with federal, state and local legal guidelines.

Homeland Safety

Homeland Security Officer Badge

Homeland safety searches are designed to seek out potential drawback tenants who could be suspected terrorists, cash launderers or people you shouldn’t be doing business with.  They fall beneath a few totally different legal guidelines and jurisdictions.

Patriot Act

Part 352 of the Patriot Act requires every monetary establishment, together with individuals involved in real property transactions to determine anti-money laundering procedures. I’m not a lawyer so I didn’t attempt studying all the literature on the topic, but it appears that even unintentional landlords like ourselves ought to be complying with these laws.

OFAC (Workplace of Overseas Belongings Control)

OFAC is a department of the US Treasury that enforces commerce sanctions towards terrorists, drug sellers and other dangerous actors.

Not all tenant background examine providers supply this search.  Some only supply it of their premium packages.  Make sure your report features a Homeland Safety examine or document that you are looking by yourself.

You’ll be able to click on within the picture under to look your current tenants on the Division of Treasury.  Hopefully, none of your tenants show up on this record!

Search your tenants in the OFAC database

Intercourse Offender

Most tenant background examine providers will embrace a sex
offender search in their primary tenant screening stories.  Nevertheless, there are totally different databases
so be certain they are operating a national search.  Chances are you’ll need to complement this with a state and local
search of your personal to be thorough.

Can I Use Intercourse
Offender Standing In Housing Selections?

Sex offenders will not be a protected class beneath the Truthful Housing Act so landlords usually are not required to lease to them.  Nevertheless, the legal guidelines are combined on this area.

On the one hand, some states prohibit the place an offender can reside indicating a landlord has an obligation to use this info in housing selections.

However, some states reminiscent of California specifically don’t can help you deny housing on this foundation.

It’s a difficult area.  Speak to an area housing authority or lawyer when unsure.


Prior evictions predict future ones.  In accordance with TransUnion, an applicant with a prior eviction is nearly 4X as more likely to have one other eviction than an applicant with a clear report. See the chart under:

Transunion estimates people with prior evictions have another eviction about 21% of the time versus non-evicted tenants at only about a 5% rateTransUnion Knowledge

Clearly eviction history is essential.  Every tenant background verify ought to include one but not
all do.  Moreover, not all
tenant eviction searches are nationwide. 
Make sure your tenant screening service features a nationwide evictions

Additionally, immediate tenant background examine providers only return
evictions where the owner gained the case.  They don’t report eviction filings.  Most eviction instances never make it to
the ultimate stage.  They’re often
settled lengthy earlier than then.

Even when your prospective tenant doesn’t have an precise eviction judgment towards them doesn’t mean they haven’t been in hassle many occasions earlier than.   Guide providers do flip up this degree of data.

Revenue Verification

Paystub can be used to verify tenant income in background checksPicture by NjoyHarmony from Pixabay

It’s not just the leaky rest room at 3:00 AM that retains us Unintentional Landlords up at night time.  It’s additionally the fear that our tenant won’t pay the lease.  That’s why revenue verification is an important part of the tenant screening course of.

Most landlords require a tenant’s revenue to be at the least 3x the
month-to-month lease.  But how have you learnt
if they really make that a lot? 
You verify with pay stubs, tax returns and another corroborating

Some tenant background verify suppliers supply “revenue
verification” features in premium packages.  Nevertheless, these may actually be estimates of a prospective
tenant’s revenue based mostly on their spending historical past or financial institution statements.

LeaseRunner good points entry to an applicant’s financial institution data to create a financial profile for example:

Lease Runner's tenant income verification featureLeaseRunner’s Revenue Verification Software

SmartMove (TransUnion) makes use of an algorithm based mostly on their spending and cost patterns to determine in case your tenant in all probability has the revenue they claim or not.

SmartMove's Income Insights ExampleSmartMove’s Revenue Insights Instance

Call me old-fashioned, but I nonetheless wish to see a number of pay stubs to make sure they make what they are saying they do.  Plus it also reveals any pink flag deductions like wage garnishments!


Some tenant credit score reviews include an inventory of employers.  This is not an employment history.  It is a listing of employers’ a tenant has
listed on credit purposes.  It’s
listed to simply assist determine a person.

Guide tenant background examine providers can call employers to
confirm the small print of an applicant’s employment history.

RentPrep provides to make as much as Three such verification calls for an additional $12.  A useful function in case you are the shy sort.

History Verification

Just like Employment History, some providers can name an applicant’s current and former landlords to get the actual skinny.

See how RentPrep does it on this video.

See how RentPrep calls references in this example video

Historical past

Along with rental history, landlords ought to need to know all
the addresses associated with a potential tenant.

Handle discrepancies versus the tenant’s software may be an
indicator of fraud.  It may possibly also
reveal an applicant who has jumped around and may be a “skip” danger.  Handle histories can even inform you if
it’s essential to broaden your legal search to include other states not previously

Tackle history can easily be verified by way of a tenant background

The 3 main credit score bureaus will report the addresses related to the tenant’s credit strains (payments, loans, and so on.).  SmartMove’s tenant credit score report tells you right on the prime if the addresses associated with an applicant doesn’t match.

Guide tenant credit examine providers can get hold of this info from resellers reminiscent of utility corporations.

Social Security
Quantity Verification

Landlords want to make sure the individual applying for their condominium
is identical individual whose background verify report they’re operating.

Arguably, the easiest way to do that is by way of the tenant’s social
safety quantity.

Some tenant background examine providers will use other private
identifying info corresponding to names and addresses to verify the SSN

Guide tenant background verify providers comparable to E-renter can run the SSN by way of the Social Security Administration’s verification software.  The tenant background verify report will then come again with a “Valid” or “Invalid” outcome.

An Invalid result’s a serious tenant screening purple flag requiring additional investigation.


Tenant with empty pockets due to a bankruptcyImage by Darko Djurin from Pixabay

Whether or not you depend on on the spot or guide tenant background checks, either ought to reveal any bankruptcy judgments towards your potential tenant.

Chapter 7 Chapter

A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is called a “liquidation bankruptcy.”  That is the place your tenant bought or
“liquidated” private belongings to repay a portion of outstanding debts.  No additional payments are made.  Chapter
7 Bankruptcies keep on a tenant’s credit score report for 10 years.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

A Chapter 13 Chapter is called a “reorganization
chapter.”  That is the place your
tenant can maintain their property however must make funds over the subsequent 3-5 years. Chapter 13 Bankruptcies keep on a tenant’s
credit report for 7 years. 
(Confusing. Proper?)

Can I Reject A Tenant Due To Chapter?

Landlords are usually allowed to reject an applicant as a result of a
previous chapter.  Nevertheless, the
credit reporting businesses are usually not allowed to report a chapter greater than 10
years previous.  Some CRAs cease
reporting them after 7 years.

In either case, a landlord shouldn’t reject an applicant because of a bankruptcy older than 10 years.

Judgments /

Tenant credit reviews used to point out any judgments and liens
towards a prospective tenant. 
Nevertheless, through the years there have been various modifications to the ways
the credit score bureaus report these kind of unfavourable gadgets.

  • In 2015, the
    massive Three credit score bureaus stopped reporting non-loan related collections comparable to
    outstanding visitors tickets.
  • In July 2017,
    they stopped reporting any judgment or lien that doesn’t meet a better commonplace
    of matching to a person.  This
    is estimated to have resulted in a bounce in credit scores for tens of millions of individuals.

I don’t find out about you, but I need to know if my potential
tenant refuses to pay their fitness center membership.

Can I Reject A Tenant Due To Judgments/Liens?

Landlords are allowed to make use of unfavourable judgments and liens as a basis for rejecting a tenant.  Just like Chapter 13 bankruptcies, these are solely reported for 7 years so landlords usually shouldn’t contemplate judgments older than that.


Operating a tenant background verify is an important step within the tenant screening course of.  It’s worthwhile to know what info a tenant credit examine can present versus a tenant background examine. There are such a lot of providers that it may be arduous to decide on.  However they don’t all provide the identical info.

It’s additionally essential to know the variations and limitations of Immediate versus Guide tenant background checks. In case you reside in or near one of many 5 excluded states, you might want to use a guide tenant background verify service.

It’s much more essential to know the way to legally use the knowledge you receive from tenant background checks.

  • Never apply a special normal for a protected class
  • By no means contemplate judgments older than 7 years (10 years for chapter 13)
  • Use warning when contemplating legal, sex offender or different delicate info when making a housing choice

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