Did you run a background check on all of your current tenants?
Tenant screening will catch those with a criminal record attempting to rent your property. That’s not to say you shouldn’t rent to people with a criminal record, but you need to know who’s living in one of your most expensive assets.
Screening tenants is a non-negotiable and it’s cheap compared to the damage unsavory tenants will cause. Run an investigative tenant screening and find out everything you need to know regarding credit and criminal backgrounds. Read the important facts about criminal background checks!
1. There is no “national criminal records database”
Many screening and background verification companies claim to search through a “national criminal records database” but it is important to know no such thing is open to the public. The FBI maintains a database called National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC is only available to law enforcement officers and employees of the federal government who have received appropriate clearance. Screening firms can obtain information from state and county court/criminal records and compile their own database of “national” information.
2. State criminal records are restrictive
Many states compile their own databases but like the NCIC use of these databases are restrictive and often times only provide information to local law enforcement and state government employees.
3. Often criminal records are maintained at the county level
The majority of counties, in every state, across the country maintain a criminal records database. Many of these databases will provide limited information to the public—verifying the existence of a case or providing a record number. This is often the starting point for most screening companies.
4. Credit reports will not provide criminal information on tenants
The legal section of a credit report will not contain any criminal information or legal information outside of monetary suits, judgments, or liens.
5. Searches can (and probably will) provide false hits
Common names make it hard to run screenings. There is a good chance your Jane Smith was born on the same day as 6 other Jane Smiths. When providing your screening company information be sure to include information differentiating your applicant from others like a middle or previous addresses. Social Security numbers are not normally kept on record, occasionally making searches more difficult.
6. The Fair Credit Reporting Act only provides seven years of prior data
When considering a rental applicant, the FCRA allows landlords to consider the prior seven years of criminal history. Any blemish appearing on a credit report older than seven years from the date on which it was ran is considered null and void rendering the information useless.
7. You need to obtain approval to run a background check from your rental applicant
To protect your interests and the interests of your screening company most service providers will ask you to have your applicant sign a disclaimer or waiver approving a background check be done on their behalf. While approval is not required by law in every state and criminal records in every state and county require different releases or authorization, it is always best to disclose the background check to your rental applicant.
8. Find a screening service who provides more information than just felonies
Many argue landlords should only look at information regarding felonies when it comes to a rental applicant to ensure you don’t mistakenly profile or misjudge the prospective tenant. But you might also want to consider misdemeanors. If your applicant has 6 outstanding speeding tickets or was arrested multiple times for petty theft you might not want them in your home. What to look at and what to consider when approving a tenant depends on your comfort level but many landlords are so eager to fill a vacancy they often miss important patterns in a tenant’s character.
9. A verbal “no” does not protect you
If you plan on rejecting an applicant because of their criminal record you must do so in writing. Simply telling them they failed to pass a background check over the phone is not enough to protect you from litigation. You need to provide your applicant with written notification stating the reasons they were denied tenancy.
10. Be consistent with tenants and avoid discrimination suits
Setting standards for tenant screening is important. Compile a list of deal breakers when looking at criminal backgrounds and gauge your comfort level in regards to the types of crime you are willing to overlook. Document those requirements so you can refer back to them later. Note: credit reports and income verification don’t always tell the full story. Stick to your standards and comfort gauge with every potential tenant. Do yourself a favor and screen all applicants to avoid being sued. The last thing you need is for an applicant to say they weren’t treated fairly.