How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Housing? How To Check

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | January 24, 2023

Man dragging a suitcase looks at a house, a flipping calendar and a clock and wonders how far back does a background check go for housing and what are the requirements of a tenants background check?

When searching for an apartment or rental location in a new town, many people wonder, how far back does a background check go for housing?

When a person has a criminal record, it can impact a rental background check.So the first thing to do is to learn how to run a criminal background check on yourself to see what shows up.

Fortunately, these records are public and can be accessed using the search tool on this page.

However, it’s important to note that the laws can be somewhat different from state to state, but in general, most individuals can assume the required background check will go back about 10 years.

Since the difference of a few years might mean the difference between approval for housing and rejection, knowing exactly how far back does a background check go for housing is crucial.

This complete guide answers that question for each state, and outlines other rental background check requirements.

How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Housing?

When it comes to how far back does a background check go for housing, the first thing that individuals should do is to check their state laws. More and more states are adopting laws to help protect both landlords and tenants, even during the application process.

Understand that no landlord can perform a background check on someone without their written consent.

For example, Colorado recently adopted the Rental Application Fairness Act.1 This law only allows landlords to consider the applicant’s last 5 years of conviction information during the criminal history check and only allows for the applicant’s last 7 years of credit history to be considered.

Although not all states will have laws as strict as those in Colorado, many states do have limits on how far back a background check can go. Individuals who live in a state with no such laws are technically subject to background checks covering their entire life during the criminal history check in most cases.

However, it is fairly standard for the criminal history check to only cover the last 7 years of information. This has less to do with state laws and is generally due to industry standards amongst background check companies.

There are some exceptions to this, mostly involving sex crime.2 Even if the sex crime was committed more than 10 years ago, many crimes will require the individual be entered into a sex offender registry for the rest of their life. Since checking sex offender registries is a fairly common background check practice,3 the landlord will be able to find the criminal information in this way, rather than through the normal criminal history check which usually examines court records.

When it comes to how far back the credit history check can go, almost all credit checks will only go back 7-10 years. The main reason for this is that even more notable events on someone’s credit history, such as bankruptcy or foreclosure,4 will only be on the individual’s credit report for 10 years at most in most cases.

What Is a Rental Background Check?

Many people will be familiar with pre-employment background checks and what they entail but will be wondering, what is a rental background check? Rental or tenant background checks serve a similar purpose to a pre-employment background check.

Rental background checks are performed on potential tenants to a rental property to assess the risk the individual poses to the property, the landlord, and other tenants.

Just like knowing your rights as an employee is extremely important in order to protect yourself from your employer, the procedures of background checks and your rights when it comes to renting are also important to avoid discrimination and to recognize illegal practices from your landlord.

Background Check Apartment: What Do Apartment Background Checks Look for?

The background check apartment may seem intimidating but there are a few basic things individuals should know and some simple steps they can take when it comes to how to pass a background check for an apartment.

The first question that needs to be answered is what do apartment background checks look for, which is very simple.

Apartments are looking to assess risk and they do so by trying to answer three questions that determine the kinds of checks that are performed during the background check:

  • Is the individual going to pay their rent and on time?
  • Is the individual likely to commit a crime on the property or make other tenants unsafe/uncomfortable?
  • Is the individual likely to violate the lease agreement in some way?

So, what does a rental background check consist of? Apartments will perform credit history checks and income verification to see if the individual is going to be able to pay rent, criminal history checks will determine if the individual is likely to commit a crime on the property, and a civil records check will reveal if the individual has a history of violating lease agreements.

Credit History Check

One of the most important things to a landlord is whether or not the individual is able to pay the rent. This is done by performing a credit check on the individual that is going to be paying for the apartment,5 but not necessarily all of the tenants of the property.

So, what do landlords look for in credit checks? Landlords will be looking to see if the individual has declared bankruptcy, if they have any liens, or if they have any unpaid debt and other similar credit issues that would indicate the individual is having financial problems. It’s extremely common for landlords to run a credit history check and ask for income verification.

Even if the individual makes enough money to afford the apartment, if they have large amounts of debt, it can be an indication that they might not have enough money left for rent after paying off debts each month.

Criminal History Check

The required criminal history check can be a major cause for concern for many individuals since it can be hard to know what to expect. Most landlords will work with a background check service to perform the criminal history check on potential tenants. Unlike the credit check, the criminal history check will be performed on all tenants of the rental property.

As far as what would make someone fail a background check when it comes to criminal history, very few apartments will offer a list of disqualifying crimes. However, the general rules that can be applied to pre-employment background check disqualifiers can also be applied to tenant background checks. Generally, the more serious the crime, the more likely that it is going to be an issue.

The following crimes are common disqualifiers, however, it is important to understand that this is generally on a case-by-case basis. Some apartments will allow tenants with more serious criminal records and others will not.

Screenshot of Office of Justice Programs website page about virtual library with yellow arrow pointing to drug-related crime fact sheet.

The manufacturing and selling of drugs is a criminal act that can prevent someone from passing a rental background check.

When it comes to, how to rent an apartment with a felony on your record the best policy is, to be honest, and upfront about the criminal record.

Tenant-landlord relationships are built on trust so if the landlord doesn’t think that the individual’s criminal history is going to be an issue, they are likely to overlook it.

Civil Court Records Check

The last thing that landlords will check, which surprises many individuals, is a check of civil court records in the counties where the applicant has lived during the last few years. The reason for this is fairly simple. When someone commits a serious lease violation or does something that would cause them to be evicted from a rental property, the landlord is likely to sue them in civil court.

The new landlord will want to find any civil court document so that they can see if the applicant has a history of causing trouble for landlords by violating their lease agreement, not paying rent, or other behaviors that would make them a risky tenant.

What Is a Red Flag in a Housing Background Check?

As far as what is a red flag in a background check or what causes a red flag on a background check, anything that indicates the tenant poses a risk to the landlord’s assets or the other individuals on the property. This can be an indication that they won’t pay their rent on time, that they will disregard the lease agreement, or that they are likely to commit crimes on the property that jeopardize the safety of the other tenants.

Aside from the information found during the background checks, anything that was listed on the application that was false will also reflect poorly on the applicant.

Inconsistencies are sure to raise some red flags so it is extremely important that individuals double-check their application to ensure there are no mistakes that could cause problems with the background check.

How Far Back Can a Landlord Check Your Criminal Record in Each State?

One of the most common questions that individuals have about the criminal history check for apartments is how far back can a landlord check your criminal record in each state. In the vast majority of states, the only background check-related laws are those mandated by the FCRA which does not have any limits on how far back a background check can go.7

However, when it comes to how far back do apartment background checks criminal history, it is fairly common for background check companies to only check the last 7 years of criminal history, even in states that allow them to check the individual’s entire criminal history.

Individuals should first check to see if they live in a 10-year state to determine if there are any state laws that protect them.

Related Reading: 10-Year Background Check States: 39 States That Use 10-Year Limit (List)

How Far Back Do Apartments Check Criminal History?

Although it can vary by the state it is fairly standard for the criminal history check to only cover the last 7 years of the individual’s record. However, it is often a good policy to simply assume that the check will go back forever just to be safe. It is also important to check local tenant laws to see if there is anything that applies to tenant background checks.

What Does an Apartment Background Check Show?

So, what does an apartment background check show? Credit history, criminal history, and any related civil court records are certain to show up on just about every tenant background check.

It is possible that there will be other checks performed as well, depending on the property. As mentioned, sex offender registry checks are fairly common as well.

When considering, what do apartment complexes look for in a background check, it is always possible to simply ask the landlord about the details of the check, so you can determine if they are going to find anything that could be a potential issue.

Tenants Background Check

Many landlords might consider performing the tenant’s background check themselves to save the money that would otherwise be paid to a private background check service. Although this is possible, there are numerous laws that the landlord will need to navigate to perform the check properly without violating any state or federal laws regarding tenant background screening.

Individuals will need to know how to do a credit check on a tenant properly as well as how to do background checks for renters to check their criminal history legally.

Screenshot of Mass Gov website page about criminal records with yellow arrow pointing to housing.

Every state outlines the legal requirements for landlords and tenants, including what can disqualify someone from passing a background check, and public housing qualifications and requirements.

Landlords will want to carefully study the laws of both their state and the FCRA. Most notably when it comes to how to check someone’s credit for renting, landlords performing official background checks and credit checks will need to obtain the written consent of the persons being checked or risk violating federal background check laws.

It’s also important to be able to answer questions like, how far back do apartment background checks go to avoid considering the criminal history that is outside the state’s limit.

With so much to consider, it makes sense why most landlords hire a private service to do it for them. But how much is a background check cost for renters? Most background checks will cost around $35-100, the cost of which can be covered by the renter.

No Background Check Apartments

Many people will be wondering, do all apartments do background checks, and the answer is no. There are no federal laws that require landlords to perform background checks, but it often makes more sense to do so than to not. However, there are ‘no background check’ apartments out there.

The best way to find apartments that don’t do background checks is to find rental properties owned by individuals, rather than large leasing companies. Individual land owners are far less likely to perform background checks and may simply want to meet the individual.

Can Apartments See Your Rental History?

After hearing about landlords checking to see if individuals have been evicted, many people will ask, can apartments see your rental history and the answer is no, unless the eviction was part of a public court record. In that case, yes, they can.

Evictions warrants are public record.

Although there is no apartment rental database they can check, they can call previous landlords and find the information that way as well.

However, if the move wasn’t a result of an official eviction, previous rental information is not part of a standard background check for housing.

How Far Back Do Apartments Check Rental History?

As far as how far back do apartments check rental history, it will vary based on the apartment but asking for the last 3-5 years of rental history is fairly standard.

Rental history is one of the biggest concerns for those asking, how far back does a background check go for housing, but it’s important to remember as long as no legal action was taken by a previous apartment, there should be little to worry about.

How Far Back Does Rental History Go?

So, how far back does rental history go? Usually no more than 7 years and often far less. Remember, this information is supplied by the renter in most cases.

How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Housing? How To Run a Rental Background Check on Myself

There is a lot to consider when trying to determine how far back does a background check go for housing. Not only is it important for individuals to know the local laws but running a background check on yourself and learning how to fix your background check to avoid any surprises.

To run a free rental background check on myself, individuals can use the search bar at the top of this page by entering their name to perform a public records search.

It is always a good idea to be as prepared as possible for any background check, especially for apartment background checks. Knowing the local laws, background check procedures, and what the landlord will be looking for are essential. At a minimum individuals should be able to answer basic questions like how far back does a background check go for housing.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Housing

Does Eviction Show Up on Background Check?

Evictions will only appear on a background check if the eviction was filed in civil court, individuals who were asked to vacate a property will not have this information present on a background check.

How To Beat a Destruction of Property Charge?

Beating a destruction of property charge usually involves proving in civil court that the individual did not commit the crime. Without clear evidence, it is unlikely destruction of property will involve criminal charges.

How Long Does an Eviction Stay on Your Record?

Many people ask, how long does an eviction stay on your record? Evictions will usually stay on an individual’s record for 10 years at most, although there are ways to get this shortened.

Does an Eviction Go on Your Record?

Most renters wonder, does an eviction go on your record? If an eviction is filed in civil court by the landlord, these records will appear on the Individual’s public record and can be found during a background check if the check includes a search of civil court records.

How Many Years of Address History for Background Check?

In most cases, 7 years of address history for a background check is standard, as confirming address history beyond this many years can be extremely difficult.


References

1Colorado General Assembly. (2019, April 02). House Bill 19-1106. Colorado General Assembly. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2019A/bills/2019a_1106_enr.pdf>

2U.S. Department of Justice. (2023). Sex-Related Offenses. National Institute of Justice. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/crime/sex-related-offenses>

3U.S. Department of Justice. (2023). National Sex Offender Public Website Homepage. United States Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://www.nsopw.gov/>

4Federal Judiciary. (2023). Bankruptcy. United States Courts. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy>

5USAGov. (2022, July 12). Credit Reports and Scores. USA.gov. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports>

6Spiess, M., & Fallow, D. (2000, March). Drug Related Crime Fact Sheet. Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/drug-related-crime-fact-sheet>

7FTC. (2022, October 27). Fair Credit Reporting Act. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved January 03, 2023, from <https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/statutes/fair-credit-reporting-act>

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