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Why Landlords Run Credit and Background Checks on Potential Tenants

By Kelly Boyer Sagert · September 26, 2022 · 5 minute read

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Why Landlords Run Credit and Background Checks on Potential Tenants

If you’re looking to rent an apartment or house, the landlord may require a tenant background and credit check. These checks primarily serve to verify an applicant’s personal information and show landlords whether they can afford the monthly rent payments. However, landlords may also screen for previous evictions, criminal behavior, and evidence of poor financial judgment.

Tenant credit and background checks can include a lot of “private” information you may not be aware of. Find out what a landlord sees when they order a background check.

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What Landlords Learn From Tenant Credit and Background Checks

Landlords primarily want to verify an applicant’s personal information and confirm they can afford the monthly rent. Landlords may also check for negative financial information, such as bankruptcy or eviction, and any criminal record. Tenant credit and background checks therefore play a crucial role in helping landlords screen potential tenants and decide whether they want to rent to a particular applicant.

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Address

Credit reports will contain the applicant’s current address, which is used to help confirm someone’s identity. Unfamiliar addresses can be a sign of identity theft or other fraud.

Address History

Credit reports also contain previous home addresses, and may also include other addresses where the applicant has received mail. The report can also include workplace addresses, post office boxes, and addresses of other people with whom the applicant has a joint bank account.

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Employment History

A background check typically won’t include information about a potential tenant’s education or employment. However, a landlord may request that the agency conducting the background check provide verification of employment. This involves confirming that the information on the rental application is accurate.

Whenever someone provides information about an employer in applying for credit, this information has the potential to show up on credit reports. A credit check for employment will include most of the same information that a landlord receives; one exception is the prospective employee’s date of birth.

Income

Background checks don’t typically include income information, although this sometimes happened in the past. In numerous cities and states around the U.S., employers can no longer ask about salary history as part of an employment application. That legislation now makes this information harder to get, overall. Instead, landlords likely rely on your ability to meet your current bills as a sign of your financial stability.

Credit Score

Landlords are interested in your credit score as an indication of your financial management skills. What credit score is needed to rent an apartment or house varies by location and landlord. Many landlords want to see a “Good” score”: 670–739, or more.

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Tradelines

“Tradelines” just refer to the various accounts on a credit report: mortgage loan, car loan, credit card account, and so forth. Tradelines are either revolving (lines of credit, including credit cards) or installment loans (such as personal loans).

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Collections

If an unpaid bill goes to collections, it typically stays on a credit report for seven years — although its impact on credit scores can lessen over time. If the debt has been paid, it should show up as “settled” or “paid in full.” Some landlords may see payment of an account in collections as a plus, a sign of growing financial responsibility.

Consumer Statements

If a potential tenant has negative information on their credit report, they may add a consumer statement to provide an explanation of what happened. These statements don’t change the credit history or score, but a landlord may take the explanation into account when deciding whether to rent to the person.

Inquiries

There are two ways for a credit check to be performed: a soft credit inquiry vs. hard credit inquiry. Hard inquiries are usually performed when someone applies for a credit card or loan, and these may show up on the credit report. Soft inquiries pull data but don’t affect credit scores. Rental applications usually conduct a soft inquiry.

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Public Records

Background checks can include public record information. Each state determines which government records are considered “public.” They can include birth and marriage certificates, voting records, immigration records, driving records, tax information, and more.

Eviction Records

According to credit agency Experian, an eviction won’t appear on a credit report, but any unpaid rent sent to collections may stay on the report for up to seven years. If a landlord took the tenant to court and won a civil judgment, that would likely appear on the tenant background check and credit report.

Criminal Records

Background reports include information gathered from criminal record databases. The check may include records from any county where the applicant has lived. Criminal checks can also be conducted at a state or federal level.

What Landlords Especially Want to Know from Tenant Credit Checks

According to credit bureau TransUnion, landlords want to look at a prospective tenant’s debt history to determine if they’re likely to pay rent on time. Red flags include late payments, a low credit score, a significant amount of debt, gaps in payments, delinquent payments, and other negative information. Landlords also want to be aware of any previous evictions or criminal background.

Consumers can prepare for credit checks by landlords through free credit monitoring services.

How Long a Tenant Credit and Background Check Takes

Credit checks can typically take up to a day, depending on the system used by the landlord. Background checks can take a few days, depending on the circumstances. This doesn’t account for the amount of time it takes for the screener to get to that application, or the time the landlord spends reviewing the application afterward.

Do Landlords or Applicants Pay for the Credit and Background Check?

Tenants often cover the cost as part of a rental application fee. A landlord can choose to absorb the cost, but it depends on the circumstances and local laws.

A landlord may also ask for a credit reference on a rental application. A credit reference can be a copy of your credit report that you provide, or a letter from a bank, lender, or previous landlord offering additional positive context to your credit history.

Checking Credit History Before Applying to Rent

As a tenant, it’s wise to be aware of what’s on your credit report and to fix any errors before you apply for an apartment. You can find out your credit score for free through Experian at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review your information and file a dispute online to correct any mistakes, remove older negative information, and alert the credit bureau to potential identity theft.

Continue to watch your credit and be mindful of any changes to your credit score. To save time, you may want to sign up for a credit monitoring service. What qualifies as credit monitoring varies with the service provider. Look for a service that offers instant alerts for suspicious charges and negative information posted to your report.

The Takeaway

Landlords primarily run tenant background and credit report checks to determine if the prospective renter can afford the monthly rent payments. Landlords may also be interested in previous evictions and criminal activity. These reports also serve to provide verification of personal information and may reveal additional information available on public records.

To keep track of your credit information, SoFi provides free credit monitoring as part of the SoFi Relay money tracker app. Receive spending breakdowns, financial insights, and more at no cost.

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FAQ

What background check do most landlords use?

There are numerous background check services. If you want to know which one a potential landlord uses, it’s best to ask them.

What does a landlord look for in a tenant?

Although landlords can have individual preferences about what makes an ideal tenant, common things they look for include tenants who:

•   can afford their rent and pay on time

•   take good care of the property

•   don’t cause problems for the landlord

A tenant background and credit check can help landlords to screen applicants to find the best possible tenant.

What does a background check consist of?

When including a credit report, information provided generally lists a person’s current and past addresses, employment history, credit history, public records information, criminal records, and more. In some circumstances, a person’s eviction history can also be included.


Photo credit: iStock/andresr

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