What is a Landlord Background Check?
A landlord background check provides information related to your landlord's personal and financial history. This can be done through a variety of sources, but there are essentially two kinds of landlord background checks: an official background check done through the traditional channels and an informal background check. Let's take a look at the official channels first:
Official Landlord Background Check
If you want to run an official background check on your landlord, there are a few different ways to go about doing it. No matter which option you choose, you will need to collect some information from your landlord. While many legitimate landlords will be willing to give you the necessary information for the purposes of a background check, some may be less inclined. If a landlord is unwilling to give you the information, this is already somewhat telling. They could be hiding something from you or trying to conceal certain aspects of their past. Nonetheless, without the following information, you will have to resort to an unofficial background check:
- Full name
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Any known aliases
- Address history
This is all the same information that will be required of you as a tenant in order for your landlord to run a background check on you. While some of this information (especially the social security number) is highly sensitive, some landlords will recognize that it is only fair to allow you to run a background check on them as well. After all, you are providing them with the same sensitive information about yourself. If they want to make sure that you are a trustworthy person, it is only fair that you can do the same. In addition to this basic information, you will also need written consent from your landlord to run a background check.
The Two Most Useful Background Checks For Tenants
Criminal Background Check
This type of background check is very useful for determining any legal misdeeds from your landlord's past. Misdemeanor offenses can typically be ignored, but if the report shows felonies or a pattern of criminal behavior that could threaten your safety, it is best to avoid signing any contracts. Criminal background checks generally show all criminal convictions, court records, and pending criminal cases. You can also check to see if your landlord is on a terrorist watch list or sex offender registry.
Credit Background Check
The relationship between a landlord and a tenant is primarily a financial one, so knowing each other's credit history is extremely important. Your landlord will need to see your credit score and history to determine your ability to pay rent on time and the probability that you will be a reliable tenant. Similarly, you will want to see your landlord's credit report to ensure that they can be trusted to uphold the contract and act in fairness with security deposits.
How to Do an Official Landlord Background Check
Whether you decide to run a criminal background check, a credit background check, or both, the procedure will be virtually the same. Follow these steps to run an official background check on your landlord:
Get Written Permission
As stated previously, you are required by law to get written permission from your landlord before running any kind of background check on them. This will be necessary for your own legal protection in the unlikely event that a lawsuit is brought against you.
Collect the Information
Obtain your landlord's full name, social security number, date of birth, aliases, and previous addresses. This may be the hardest part, as many landlords will be unwilling to give this information out to prospective tenants. But in order to run an official background check, you must obtain this information. If the landlord is concerned about identity theft, you may consider jointly running a background check, so that you can oversee the process without having access to their personal information.
Choose a Method
There are various online services for both criminal and credit background checks. Additionally, criminal background checks can be done at most local police stations. However, just as a friendly reminder, you CANNOT do these kinds of background checks with CheckPeople!
Unofficial Landlord Background Check
If your landlord refuses to consent to an official background check, or you simply prefer to do your own research, an unofficial background check is your best option. This will require more time and effort on your part, but it can often yield valuable results. Here are some steps you can take to do an unofficial landlord background check.
Go Directly to the Source
Most landlords can provide a wealth of information about themselves and their past. Naturally, if you suspect your landlord of criminal or untrustworthy activity, you may assume that they will stretch the truth to get you to sign on the dotted line. However, asking the right questions is the first step to getting the information you need. Here are a few questions to ask while discussing the contract:
How long did the previous tenants live here? The answer to this question can be very telling. If you notice a pattern of previous tenants leaving after very short stays, this could be evidence of issues with the living space or the landlord. On the other hand, if the previous tenants stayed for several years, it might be safe to assume that they were content with the landlord and the property.
If there is a problem in my building/apartment, who takes care of the maintenance? The answer to this question is not as important as how the landlord answers it. If a landlord does not have an immediate response, it means that they may allow damaged property to go unrepaired for long periods of time, or simply don't have a system in place to maintain the property.
Have you had any issues with tenants in the past? The answer to this question could be very interesting, because the landlord will probably not be expecting it. They may say no, which is unlikely to be true, given that most landlords have, at one time or another, had a dispute with a tenant. Additionally, if they do give you an example of a past incident, it will give you an idea of how they interact with tenants and handle different situations.
Ask around the Property
Generally speaking, other tenants will be much more candid about their experiences with the landlord than the landlord will be about his or her experiences with the tenants. Taking a walk around the property and starting up conversations with other tenants is a great way to find out what the landlord is really like behind the scenes. While some tenants may have more issues with the property or neighborhood than they do with the landlord, it will still give you an idea of what you can expect after signing the contract.
Obviously, if the landlord is only renting out a room or single home, you won't be able to find out much from neighbors. However, if the you are looking to rent in an apartment complex, your fellow tenants can provide a wealth of useful information. Nonetheless, even if your neighbors are not renting from the same landlord, they may have interacted with him and can provide some information as well.
Check for Reviews Online
One of the easiest ways to find out more about your landlord is through review sites. Many websites give users the ability to list their exact address and write a review about the property and/or landlord. If there are negative reviews, read through them to see if there is a pattern of unethical behavior. Sometimes tenants use review sites to complain about petty grievances, but often times they report very legitimate concerns.
If given the opportunity, you can even show the landlord some of these reviews and see how they respond. If they have a reasonable explanation for the negative feedback, then you probably don't have anything to worry about. However, if they become defensive or are unable to refute the claims, that is a major red flag.
Research the Property
Perhaps the worst offense a landlord can commit is fraudulently claiming to be the owner of the property. Though this is not extremely common, it does happen, and it can be devastating to tenants simply looking for a place to live. In these situations the "landlord" will collect the security deposit and rent (possibly for the first few months) and then disappear with your money. In these situations, you are left without much legal recourse, and may even be accused of illegally squatting by the real property owners.
Thankfully, there are several ways to find out who really owns the property before you sign anything. You can go to your local county clerk's office to request the information, or the recorder's office to look at the property deed. Local tax assessors will also have access to this information. If you prefer a slightly faster and more convenient route, you can often find this information online using various real estate websites.
Why a Landlord Background Check Matters
While it is true that a landlord needs to be protected from shady tenants, it is equally true that tenants need to be protected from deceitful landlords. They say that moving is one of the most stressful events in a person's life, so why make it more stressful by signing a contract with a scammer? Signing a lease on a house or apartment is an extremely important decision and requires a sizable financial investment. Collecting as much information as possible is the best way to ensure that you can move into your new home without having to deal with a terrible landlord.
Landlord background checks can also help keep you safe from violent or predatory criminals. Some landlords use their power to take advantage of tenants who miss a payment. They may also blackmail you or threaten you with physical violence if they don't get what they want. While a background check cannot always prevent something like this from happening, it can greatly reduce the probability of getting taken advantage of by an unscrupulous person.
While getting a landlord background check before you rent is vital, it is also important that you don't break any rules in the process. CheckPeople is always willing to provide expert advice for obtaining background checks, but you CANNOT use CheckPeople to conduct landlord background checks. For more information on the do's and don'ts of our services, check out this link. Though CheckPeople does not allow these type of searches, you can still use our services to get lots of valuable info!