Renter Screening and You

Sandy Glover

Renter screening; here is a topic that everybody has an opinion.  Some feel it is O.K. to do a credit score check only; others run a credit check and contact the applicant’s landlord for a reference, still some do these then log onto a web site that offers background screening or contracted a “background screening” company.  While these are good, they don’t give you the whole picture and could cost you additional time, money, and aggravation, especially in today’s law suit happy society.   Let’s break it down:

Getting a credit report:  The first thing you must know is there are legal issues to consider.  The use of credit reports is governed by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. which  addresses the use of credit reports by landlords, real estate brokers, property managers and leasing agents. In addition, it ensures the background search results are accurate and accurate.  Under the FCRA, the leasing agent, apartment manager or landlord may obtain a credit report and background check on applicants provided the provisions of the FCRA are followed, and there are a few.  The result of not following FCRA rules could be a costly civil right law suit….the last thing you need.

Contacting the applicant’s landlord and/or references.  The logical  problem is, if your applicant is a bad renter, that landlord’s nose will grow 6” as he tells you what a great tenant this person is.  He/she is only to happy to make this person YOUR problem.  As far as references go, the applicant will probably not tell you he is putting down his mother’s or his BFF’s contact information, and mom and buddies are not going to “rat” on the applicant.

Contacting a company that sells background checks.  Here is where you must do some homework.  You see, unless this company is a consumer reporting agency, the FCRA laws are probably not being followed, for example, they are not using FCRA compliant databases which there are only a couple and they are private.  Instead they use the same background checking web sites that you could download, thus you are paying them to do what you could do, and not might not be getting the facts you want.

What searched do you need?  Consider these:

  • Verification of name, date of birth, and social security number.  When a search comes back “no record” it does not mean there is no record.  You see, unless the person has never had a driver’s license or state identification card, applied for credit ( credit card, bought a car, or house) he/she has a record.   A “no record” means to me that the person had put false personal information in the application.  You would be surprised to know how often that happens.
  • Nationwide criminal background screening.  Again you want “no criminal record” not “no record”
  • Search of Department of Homeland Security or similar terrorist watch list.  Chances are they are not going to be on any watch list, but you just never know today.
  • Nationwide sexual offender and predator search.  Very important in where children are neighbors or the property is located near a school.
  • Civil record search in every county the applicant has lived for at least the past 5 years ( often civil actions such as a restraining order are not included in a criminal search.
  • Employment verified,  how long have they been employed, is he/she a good employee-you don’t want to rent to a person who is on the verge of being fired or will lose his job due to company cut backs.
  • Prior landlord contacted ( not current, but someone who will be honest with you)
  • Credit activity-has this person been sued for non-payment, evicted, foreclosed, etc.

Clearly with these facts legally obtained in your hand, you can make an informed decision: do you approve the application or deny it.  I like to think that a thorough screening is like putting a puzzle together, a puzzle that contains 8 pieces, if you don’t have all 8 the puzzle is incomplete.

How about the cost?  That varies from CRA to another. Normally they should be in the $30 to $50.00 range.  To weed out those who would be tempted to put false information on the application, or hope you won’t find out that they are a convicted burglar ( for example) May I suggest they sign the consent form then THEY pay for the search?  It has been my experience the would be applicant will make an excuse to leave and are out the door, and good riddance to them.

I hope this will give you a better idea of the ins and outs of applicant screening, and all that is involved in getting a good one.  If you do have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Happy leasing,

Sandy Glover, EOC

The Gold Shield Agency

An American company

NOTE:  The views expressed in this blog are those of Sandy Glover, and they are not in any way intended to provide legal advice.  For legal concerns regarding renter applicant screening, contact a member of your state legal bar.

Sandy Glover

CEO  The Gold Shield Agency

An American Company

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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