2021 Tenant Background Check Guide for Landlords (Rules for All 50 States)

Background Checks | By Background Check Repair | Updated on November 22, 2021

Tenant background check rules are rapidly changing. Because the regulations concerning how a landlord can screen a tenant can change from year to year and state to state, we’ve compiled a complete 2021 Tenant Background Check Guide for Landlords, providing rules for all 50 states.

Tenant Background Check Guide (& The Devastating Consequences For Not)

Renters are usually required to go through a credit check when applying to rent an apartment or home. Landlords may also be able to perform other background checks like rental history, eviction records, court cases, sex offender registry, and last known address. This may seem invasive to the tenant, but it is incredibly important and common because it can help landlords greatly reduce their risks as property owners.

What Kind of Risks?

Certainly more than just dealing with late rent a few times.

Failing to conduct a rental background screening may open you up to:

  • Dealing with a costly and stressful eviction
  • A tenant who has been convicted of a crime may pose a threat to other renters in the area
  • Property damage
  • Damaged relationships with neighbors
  • Loss of property values
  • Personal liability as a result of a tenants actions

These are all potential risks that landlords must be aware of when screening tenants. As a property owner, you have the right to protect yourself and your property, so making sure you go through a tenant background check is an investment in your business.

Tenant and Rental Background Checks: Quick Definition (All 50 States)

A tenant background check is a process that a landlord uses to screen an applicant before renting to them by judging their qualifications, rental history, eviction history, court records, sex offender registration status, and last known address. Tenant background searches may also include a credit check, which checks for any late payments, bankruptcy filings, liens, and judgments.

This tenant screening process can help landlords select high-quality tenants and avoid untold future struggles. It’s important to keep in mind that a level 1 background check will only show local information about the prospective tenant, while a level 2 background check will include information about them found in national databases and other states.

For the rules of each state, keep reading below.

How to Run a Tenant Background Search

Landlords need to be certain that their tenant background check process is compliant with all Fair Housing Laws. If you are unsure, contact a lawyer or tenant screening service.

A landlord should always conduct a tenant background check prior to signing a lease agreement and collecting the first month’s rent. If the tenant is moving in with others, all adult occupants should be subject to the rental background check.

According to tenant background check rules, landlords are also required to inform prospective tenants about the screening process. This must be done in writing at the time of application, usually by using a disclosure form provided by the tenant.

A rental credit check is usually accomplished via an online credit reporting agency. Results are available immediately after completing a tenant background check.

The tenant screening process will typically review the following sources (what is needed for a background check for tenants):

  • Rental application
  • Credit report (includes a credit check and bankruptcy filings)
  • Court records (includes eviction history, criminal background, court cases, and judgments)
  • Sex offender registry list (available for any state in the U.S.)
  • Proof of income

The tenant background check process is usually much shorter than other types of credit checks, often taking just a few minutes to complete. For most online tenant screening services, once the results are out, they are sent straight to the landlord’s email account.

Rules for Using Your Background Check for Renters and Tenants

As a landlord, you need to be aware of your state’s tenant background check rules and regulations in order to avoid any potential legal issues in the future. For example, a tenant screening report should never contain medical information about an applicant or current tenant under federal law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) protects both landlords and tenants from tenant background check violations.

Tenant background checks should never be used as a way to discriminate against someone due to their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Any discriminatory practice is prohibited by law and punishable with steep fines and damages awarded to the tenant.

For example, a landlord who only does tenant background checks for African-American applicants or tenants will be in violation of federal rental applicant screening laws.

How to Read a Tenant Background Check

It is important for you to be able to read tenant background check reports in order to decide who the best applicants will be.

As you conduct your screening, there are certain items that can be red flags when looking at tenant checks. For example, if an applicant has a criminal background or eviction history, they may not be very suitable for renting. If they have any current or past drug-related crimes and/or misdemeanor charges, they may be a less than desirable tenant.

Tenant screening reveals notable areas of disclosure that can help you make the best decision about applicants. For example, if there is an eviction on file, it will note this as such, or if they filed for bankruptcy, it would show this on the report as well.

Included with the tenant background check are also items that can be considered positive. For instance, if they have a good credit score or no criminal records at all, then they may be excellent potential tenants.

Skipping Background Checks for Tenants Is Guaranteed to Cause Issues

A tenant background check is an absolute must when it comes to screening prospects. Without one, there are far too many issues that can arise. Tenant screening can prevent any potential problems before they happen by giving complete information about a potential tenant.

Without one, you could be placing yourself and your rental property in a risky situation. You want to be confident in the renters you are welcoming to live in your property. Failing to take this one simple action is setting yourself up for future difficulties.

How to Get the Best Tenant Background Checks

When conducting a tenant screening, you want to make sure that the source is reputable. Until you have a confident process and source for your rental background check, consider getting a combination of reports from different sources. This way, you have a complete picture of a potential tenant’s history.

The tenant background check should have complete listings of any evictions, civil cases, or criminal records, so you have the whole picture. In addition, it should provide details of any housing, rental, or credit history and their ability to pay rent on time. Ensure you aren’t breaking any tenant laws or regulations by utilizing proven, trusted services like those below.

Clear Signs an Applicant Will Be a Bad Tenant (Credit and Background Check Red Flags)

Rental background checks can reveal a lot of information, both good and bad. If you are screening applicants, it is crucial to be aware of what red flags there might be in their credit history or criminal background. This will give you the best idea of who would make the best tenant for your rental property.

Some of these red flags include:

Criminal Records, Even Misdemeanors

A rental applicant who has been charged with a crime of any sort may not make for an ideal tenant. You want to feel safe knowing that the person you are letting into your home is not going to cause problems of any kind.

Eviction History or Financial Problems

According to rental background check statistics, a tenant who has been evicted before is more likely to cause financial problems. Additionally, suppose an applicant currently owes money or is having trouble making their credit card payments. In that case, this could be a sign of future issues for you as the landlord.

Bad Credit History

Having bad credit does not necessarily mean an applicant will be a bad tenant, but they may not be the best fit for your rental property. If you are looking to rent to someone who is financially responsible or has good credit, then an applicant with bad credit may not work.

Many other red flags can come up when running a rental background check on people you are considering renting to. However, these are among the glaring.

Do These Reports Include a Tenant Criminal Background Check?

The tenant background check should give you all the information that you need to know about a potential tenant. If it is a national report, then it should include criminal history reports. National tenant screening services can be beneficial when it comes to finding the best tenant for your property.

Is It Possible to Get a Free Rental History Report?

It is not likely that you’ll be able to get a completely free rental history. However, many services offer the first report for free so you can see if this service is good enough for you. Review the different options provided on this page to explore your options.

Are There Any Differences in Background Checks for Landlords of Apartments?

There can be slight differences in background checks depending on the location. This is especially true in a state where tenant laws and regulations prohibit certain things from being checked.

Best Tenant Screening Services That Meet All Regulations

There are various services you can utilize to ensure that your tenant background check is thorough and complete. These include:

  • First Advantage- This company goes well beyond basic tenant background checks. They have a broad scope of services and features, including access to a library of information on landlord-tenant relationships. They also offer links and resources in their partner ecosystem for other related services and tools to assist landlords beyond the tenant background screening.
  • E-Renter- Among the most affordable tenant background check services, their platform is straightforward and simple. Your basic package will include credit, criminal, financial and sex offender screenings.
  • SmartMove by TransUnion– Likely the most well-known name on the list, SmartMove by TransUnion allows landords to tap into a massive data set to conduct a tenant background check. You don’t need a membership, but it does allow you to manage multiple properties and defer the cost of the screening to the applicant.
  • VeriFirst- Another comprehensive platform, VeriFirst provides instant reports as well as assistance with debt collection and screening of co-applicants. Well ahead of the game from a technology standpoint, landlords will likely find this to be a great option for their tenant screening process.

Landlord Background Checks: Rules Vary by State

In addition to meeting the requirements of the Federal Housing Authority and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, every state has its own rules when it comes to tenant background checks. These can include information about what landlords are allowed to do regarding tenant screenings.

A landlord should always follow all proper procedures described by their particular state’s landlord-tenant laws.Take a look at the following chart that outlines the tenant background screening laws by state.

StateRestrictions for Landlords, Background Checks
Alabama Tenant Background Check LawsAlabama landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Alaska Tenant Background Check LawsAlaskan landlords much request consistent information from one potential tenant to the next.
Arizona Tenant Background Check LawsArizona landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Arkansas Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Arkansas must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
California Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, California landlords are permitted to charge a “reasonable screening fee,” generally not to exceed $35 per applicant. If requested by the potential tenant, a copy of the tenant credit and background check must be provided by the landlord. A landlord may not run a background check for renters if there is not a unit available for rent without the applicant’s prior written consent.
Colorado Tenant Background Check LawsColorado landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Connecticut Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, landlords in Connecticut may not charge a potential tenant a background check fee beyond their actual cost to have the screening completed. A landlord must inform the prospective tenant of reasons their application may be declined prior to running their background report.
Delaware Tenant Background Check LawsDelaware landlords should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
Florida Tenant Background Check LawsFlorida landlords must abide by all federal regulations regarding Florida tenant screening.
Georgia Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Georgia must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Hawaii Tenant Background Check LawsHawaiian landlords must follow all federal regulations when conducting a background check for renters.
Idaho Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, when a rental applicant is rejected due to the tenant background screening, the landlord must share the reason for rejection along with the name and address of the reporting company and an offer of a copy of the applicant’s background screening.
Illinois Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Illinois should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
Indiana Tenant Background Check LawsIndiana landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background screening.
Iowa Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Iowa must be sure to follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Kansas Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, landlords in Kansas must disclose in writing any fee that they charge for a tenant background search. If the landlord chooses to deny the application, they must explain the reasoning in writing.
Kentucky Tenant Background Check LawsKentucky landlords should adhere to all federal regulations regarding a tenant credit check.
Louisiana Tenant Background Check LawsBeyond meeting federal laws regarding a rental background check, landlords in Louisiana may not charge a potential tenant a background check fee beyond their actual cost to have the screening completed. A landlord must inform the prospective tenant of reasons their application may be declined prior to running their background report.
Maine Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, Maine landlords must be aware that revisions to Sec. 1. 30-A MRSA §3014, sub-§2 states that Maine municipalities may prohibit a sex offender from residing within a maximum distance of 2,500 feet surrounding the real property comprising a public or private elementary, middle or secondary school. This was increased from 750 feet. or up to a maximum distance of 2,500 feet  (also increased from 750 feet) surrounding the real property comprising a municipally owned property where children are the primary users.”
Maryland Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, Maryland landlords should know that tenant Screening can be passed on to the tenant. The landlord must inform tenants if they are refundable or not, and provide written notice in case an applicant decides against renting after reviewing your property due date for return all portions over $25 within 15 days with exception when charging more than 5 units at same location which will result into returning any amount exceeding the actual cost of the tenant screening check. [2]
Massachusetts Tenant Background Check LawsMassachusetts landlords must follow federal guidelines when conducting a renters background check. The Massachusetts office of consumer affairs suggests screening prospective tenants with a credit check and a review of prior rental history and confirmation of employment. [3]
Michigan Tenant Background Check LawsMichigan landlords should adhere to all federal regulations regarding rental background and credit checks.
Minnesota Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Minnesota must be sure to follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Mississippi Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Mississippi should adhere to all federal regulations regarding a tenant credit check.
Missouri Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Missouri must be sure to follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Montana Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Montana should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
Nebraska Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Nebraska should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant credit check.
Nevada Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Nevada must be sure to follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
New Hampshire Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in New Hampshire must follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant credit check.
New Jersey Tenant Background Check LawsNew Jersey landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
New Mexico Tenant Background Check LawsNew Mexico landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background checks.
New York Tenant Background Check LawsNew York  landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background screening.
North Carolina Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, North Carolina landlords must be aware that under § 14-208.16. Residential Restrictions, North Carolina law limits how closely a registered sex offender can live in consideration to a facility where the buildings primary occupants are children” [4]
North Dakota Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in North Dakota should adhere to all federal regulations regarding rental background and credit checks.
Ohio Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, Ohio landlords must be aware that under Section 5321.051 of the Ohio Revised Code states limits how closely a registered sex offender can live in consideration to a facility where the buildings primary occupants are children.
Oklahoma Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Oklahoma should adhere to all federal regulations regarding a tenant credit check.
Oregon Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Oregon must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Pennsylvania Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Pennsylvania should adhere to all federal regulations regarding rental background and credit checks.
Rhode Island Tenant Background Check LawsRhode Island landlords should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
South Carolina Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, South Carolina law limits how closely a registered sex offender can live in consideration to a facility where the buildings primary occupants are children. 6]
South Dakota Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in South Dakota must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Tennessee Tenant Background Check LawsTennessee landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background checks
Texas Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, Texas law dictates that a landlord must receive a signed copy of the possible reasons the rental application may be denied, per Texas Property Code Sec. 92.3515[7]
Utah Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in Utah must follow all federal regulations regarding rental background screening.
Vermont Tenant Background Check LawsVermont landlords should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
Virginia Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, Virginia law does allow a landlord to charge an application fee to a prospective tenant for a background check.
Washington Tenant Background Check LawsIn addition to adhering to federal laws regarding a rental background check, landlords in Washington may charge a potential tenant a background check fee but the fee cannot exceed their actual cost to have the screening completed. Also, a landlord must inform the prospective tenant of reasons their application may be declined prior to running their background report. [8]
West Virginia Tenant Background Check LawsLandlords in West Virginia should follow all federal regulations regarding a tenant background search.
Wisconsin Tenant Background Check LawsWisconsin landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background screening.
Wyoming Tenant Background Check LawsWyoming landlords must follow all federal regulations regarding tenant background checks.

Tenant Background Checks: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Given how wise of an idea completing a background check on a tenant is before renting your property, it’s no surprise that there are some common questions to consider.

How to Check Your Rental History as a Tenant

Tenants should be aware that they can be prepared by viewing the background report before their would-be landlords dive in. This is a great way for tenants to ensure their information is accurate and complete.

Anyone planning to rent an apartment or home in the near future should consider reviewing their credit report at annualcreditreport.com [10] where you receive one credit report per bureau, per-year. This will allow you to make sure there is no inaccurate information or surprises on your report. Additionally, you may want to be prepared to divulge any criminal activity that may be in your history.

You can use any of the above tools to run your background check if you want to see what your next landlord may come across.

Is a Tenant Credit Check Included?

In most cases, a credit check is very likely to be included in a tenant background check. This is not legally required for all landlords. Still, it can provide them with a fuller picture of what they are getting into if they take the time to review an individual’s credit report.

What Does a Rental Background Check Consist of?

A rental background check is a basic tenant screening service that landlords utilize to find out information about the person renting from them. It typically includes but is not limited to:

  • Criminal record check
  • Previous Address history
  • Credit report review
  • Sex offender registry search
  • Financial review- liens, judgments, bankruptcy, etc.

Tenant Background Check Free Services: Are They Legal?

Tenant background checks, when consented to, are perfectly legal and commonplace. However, there are limitations to what they can do with the information.

A renter’s back screening can not be used for purposes other than to screen the prospective tenant to determine if they are a good fit for a rental. A landlord cannot use background checks for unrelated purposes, like lending decisions, employment, or anything else. Further, they also cannot share the information obtained with unrelated third parties.

Suppose a landlord wants to share information about a tenant’s history. In that case, they must do so in ways that are compliant with privacy laws, such as obtaining the applicant’s consent. If a landlord shares information about their tenant with third parties, this action may be considered an illegal practice.

A tenant background check is an essential step in the rental process. This article has highlighted how to run a tenant credit report, what information you will find on it, and some of the red flags that landlords should look out for when running a rental background check. It’s essential to know your state laws about this matter before taking any action, so be sure to review them thoroughly before conducting a tenant background check.


References

1125th Maine Legislature. 2009. An Act To Increase the Maximum Distance from a School within Which a Sex Offender May Not Reside That May Be Set by Municipal Ordinance. 24 September 2021. Web <https://mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_125th/billpdfs/SP002301.pdf>

2Washington Law Help. 2020. What a Landlord Needs To Tell You. 24 September 2021. Web. <https://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/resource/new-state-law-what-a-landlord-needs-to-tell-y?ref=CSAnm#c>

3Annual Credit Report. 2021. Web. <https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action>