phone icon 888.881.1139 M-F: 6am - 7pm PST · Sat & Sun 9am - 1pm PST
Menu Toogle menu

How Do I Run a Background Check on a Potential Tenant?

Advertising for a new tenant and accepting a rental application from them is only the first step in renting an available apartment, house, townhome, or condo. You also need to complete a background check to ensure you are renting to a responsible individual. The typical background check consists of many parts, and landlord-tenant law gives you the legal right to check certain aspects of an applicant’s background.

What to Include in a Tenant Background Check

Although you will need to consult more than one source, the following are what most landlords check before renting to a new tenant:

  • Confirm the applicant’s identity through a driver’s license or other type of photo identification.
  • Ensure the applicant does not appear on any sex offender registries. This is especially crucial if you rent to families with children since known sex offenders cannot be physically located within a certain number of feet of children.
  • Run a complete criminal history check at the federal, state, and county level.
  • Contact previous landlords and run a rental history check to determine if the applicant has any past convictions or complaints.
  • Ensure the applicant does not appear on any lists for global terrorism.
  • Run a credit check to see if the applicant is generally responsible with money management. Just keep in mind there could be a legitimate reason for delinquencies, such as a recent health crisis.

Doing your due diligence with tenant background screening is important to protect you from financial loss. A background check also helps to protect your current clients from a neighbor with bad character who might harm them. If you fail to perform a background check and the new tenant assaults another tenant, that person could hold you legally liable for medical expenses and other costs associated with the attack.

How to Request a Criminal Background Check

Before you start looking into the applicant’s potential criminal background, you must have him or her sign a release form authorizing you to do so. The applicant should understand that the criminal check involves federal, state, and county offices.

Each jurisdiction has its own guidelines on how to proceed with the search and what is included in the report. Federal inquiries usually go through the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Most states and counties have access to public information about criminal activity available on their websites. You will need to follow instructions there on what to do if you need more in-depth information.

Typical information included on a criminal background check includes the following:

  • Aliases the applicant may go by
  • Arrests
  • Convictions
  • Description of applicant’s physical appearance
  • FBI report should include terrorism suspects
  • Jail or prison time served
  • Pending criminal charges against the applicant
  • Sex offender status

How to Request a Credit Report

You should establish a tenant screening account with either Equifax, Experian, or Transunion, which represent the major credit reporting agencies. Each will offer a plan regarding how many reports you can request per month. When you know what to look for, signing into your tenant screening account and requesting a file should only take a few minutes. Credit reporting agencies list whether the applicant has gone 30, 60, or 90 days delinquent with an account, as well as major derogatory information such as an eviction, home foreclosure, or bankruptcy.

Checking Previous Rental History

Some rental history companies offer a complete background check that includes the above information in one report. Others may only include whether the applicant has faced a previous eviction or had other rental problems. It is up to you to shop for the service that best meets your needs. You might also ask the applicant for references from previous landlords and call them to discuss their experience with your prospective tenant.

When You Must Turn an Applicant Down Based on a Background Check

Finding that the applicant has a criminal history does not mean you automatically need to reject him or her as a renter. The one exception is the applicant’s status as a sex offender as mentioned above. You may want to consider how long ago the crime occurred, the severity of the crime, and whether the applicant’s other records indicate change since that time. On the other hand, most states give you leeway to set your own standards in this regard.

While you can deny a rental application based on your findings, federal law prohibits denial based on national origin, race, color, or a previous history of drug or alcohol abuse. Lastly, be sure to keep the results of an applicant’s background check confidential and discuss them with him or her only.