The Best Background Check for Landlords- A Guide

Avoiding tenant headaches starts with proper screening upfront. We cover the key components of comprehensive tenant screening reports so you can choose the best tenant screening services for your business. For landlords who own traditional rentals, short-term vacation rentals, or commercial properties, these services will help you find reliable, responsible renters.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
June 7, 2024
The Best Background Check for Landlords- A Guide

The last thing any landlord wants is a tenant who pays late, trashes your property, or ends up in legal trouble. Before handing over the keys to your rental, you need to know you're welcoming the kind of tenant who will respect your investment. Someone responsible who can comfortably afford the rent, pays on time, and follows the lease terms to a T.

That's where tenant screening services come in. These services provide landlords with comprehensive background checks on prospective renters, offering insights into their financial responsibility, rental history, and any potential red flags.

By thoroughly vetting applicants through credit reports, criminal records, employment verification, and more, landlords can make the best decisions about who they rent to. This reduces risks and helps you find reliable, long-term tenants.

If you're evaluating tenant screening services and trying to determine which one is right for you, you've come to the right place! We'll help you understand the key factors to consider and which is best for different needs. So, if you're ready to find responsible tenants for your investment property, read on.

What to look for in tenant screening services

Tenant background checks help landlords assess whether a prospective tenant is a good fit. These checks are part of the screening process to help landlords make decisions about who they rent to.

Before looking at the individual screening services for landlords, it's a good idea to create a list of requirements for your real estate business. Here are our recommendations on things to look for:

Accuracy and depth

Accuracy and depth should be a top priority in every tenant screening report so that landlords have a complete picture of potential tenants. Each aspect of the detailed screening process plays a specific role, together forming an evaluation framework:

  • Credit reports: These provide a snapshot of the tenant's financial responsibility. They should detail the tenant's credit score and show total debt levels, which indicate their current financial obligations. Additionally, looking at their payment history helps understand their timeliness and consistency in paying their bills.
  • Criminal records: Reviewing a tenant’s criminal history helps to assess safety and liability risks. This check will reveal any past convictions or ongoing legal issues that could impact their suitability as a tenant. Landlords use this information to protect the safety and security of the property and its occupants.
  • Eviction history: Information on previous evictions can provide insights into a tenant's rental behavior. This includes details about any legal actions previously taken to remove the tenant from a property, as well as how reliably they followed past rental agreements. This can help predict future behavior as a tenant.
  • Rental history: Insights from previous landlords can be very telling. Feedback on how the tenant maintained the property, their punctuality in paying rent, and general conduct are all valuable in assessing a prospective tenant's character.
  • Employment verification: Confirms the tenant’s current employment status and income so that landlords can determine their ability to afford the rent. It involves verifying the tenant's place of work, position, salary, and likelihood of continued employment.
  • Identity verification: Landlords need to confirm that the tenant is who they claim to be to help prevent fraud. This process involves checking government-issued IDs and other official documents to confirm the authenticity of the tenant's identity, protecting against identity theft and other fraudulent activities.

Compliance

Make sure the service complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Compliance confirms that the tenant screening service gathers and uses the information ethically and legally to protect both you and the prospective tenant.

Property management software integration

The best tenant screening service should integrate with your overall property management workflow. The way this works is:

  • Online application submission: Tenants fill out an online application form.
  • Payment link: Upon submission, tenants receive a link to pay for their screening report.
  • Lease generation: Once you select a tenant, the platform automatically generates legally compliant lease agreements.
  • Lease signing: After generating the lease, tenants can sign it electronically, making the process quicker and more efficient.
  • Landlord portal: Once the lease is signed, the tenant’s details are automatically stored and integrated into the landlord's portal to manage and track rent payments.

Data security

Look for screening services that prioritize data security. These services should protect the data they collect and only be used for authorized screening purposes to preserve confidentiality and comply with privacy laws.

Ease of use

The service should be user-friendly, allowing you and your prospective tenants to submit requests and for landlords to receive reports easily. The best tenant screening services should be accessible online and be easy to navigate.

Timeliness

The speed at which you receive the credit report can be impactful, especially in competitive rental markets where you need to respond quickly to prospective tenants. Look for a service that delivers reports in a timely manner.

Customer support

Good customer support can help if you encounter issues or have questions about a report. Choose a tenant service that offers support through direct contact, resources, or FAQs.

Top tenant screening services for landlords

Let's get into our list of the best tenant screening services for long-term rental property owners:

Azibo

Azibo is a full-featured property management software that handles all aspects of rental property operations. In addition to tenant screening, the platform includes applications, leases, rent collection, accounting, financial management, maintenance, and messaging.

Azibo's tenant screening service is offered at no cost to landlords, with tenants covering the cost through a one-time fee. Azibo partners with TransUnion to provide detailed checks, including credit evaluations, criminal background checks, and eviction history.

The streamlined process increases ease of use: landlords can gather applicant information and send screening requests via email or text. Once completed, the screening reports are accessible directly within the landlord's Azibo account, enabling them to review and make decisions quickly.

Key features of Azibo’s tenant screening:

  • Credit check: This covers the tenant's credit score, SSN verification, previous employment, credit history, and current debt levels.
  • Criminal background checks: Searches through databases like the FBI’s most wanted and sex offender registries.
  • Eviction records: Provides insights into past judgments and unlawful detainers.

Pricing:

Applicants pay a one-time fee of $39.99 directly through Azibo.

National Tenant Network

The National Tenant Network (NTN) offers tenant screening services to help landlords make leasing decisions.

Key features of NTN's tenant screening:

  • Credit check: Provides detail on the tenant's payment patterns, judgements, and public records.
  • Criminal records: You can choose to screen from one or multiple state reports. Choosing the multi-state option provides nationwide sex offender search details.
  • Tenant performance: Get details on the tenant's past rental history, including evictions and on-time rent payments.

Pricing:

NTN's tenant screening services require a one-time membership fee. The exact price of your services will depend on the location of your properties. The cost for on-demand reports also varies by the level of the report as well as the state.

E Renter

E Renter provides screening services for landlords, property managers, and real estate agents. Note that if you are a property management company, E Renter requires an on-site inspection before you can begin using their service.

Key features of E Renter's tenant screening:

  • Nationwide: Tenant screening and credit check reports are available for all 50 states.
  • Timeliness: Receive background checks within one hour during regular business hours or same day outside of normal business hours and on weekends.
  • Detailed reports: The tenant screening report can include evictions, bankruptcies, criminal records for some states, ID verification, and liens.

Pricing:

E Renter's reports range from $21.95 to $39.44 per application. Property management companies also pay $65 for the on-site inspection.

Tenant Background Search

Tenant Background Search offers a variety of tenant screening packages to landlords and property managers.

Key features of Tenant Background Search's tenant screening:

  • Basic screening: This package provides criminal and sex offender search as well as OFAC/Patriot Act search.
  • Standard Plus screening: Includes a credit report along with more screening details like bankruptcies, medical collections, and known aliases search.
  • Comprehensive screening: Offers an in-depth screening that also includes three months of bank assets and income verification data.

Pricing:

Landlords can choose to pay for the screening reports or invite the applicant to pay for the report themselves. Reports range from $19.95 for the basic package to $39.95 for the most comprehensive option.

MyRental

MyRental offers tenant screening services used by landlords, real estate agents, and property managers.

Key features of MyRental's tenant screening service:

  • Rental score: MyRental uses nationwide data and analytics to assign potential tenants a rental score to identify the likelihood of eviction.
  • Screening data: Landlords can view credit reports, criminal records, housing court data, and sex offender registry.
  • Individual reports: Property managers or owners can purchase individual reports if they have specific criteria to meet.

Pricing:

MyRental pricing is $24.99 per applicant for the basic package and $37.99 for the premium package.

Zillow Rental Manager

Zillow Rental Manager's tenant screening service fits within its rental listing platform. This service allows landlords to screen potential tenants from their dashboard.

Key features of Zillow Rental Manager's tenant screening service:

  • Background checks: Checks criminal history, including national and county records to identify past convictions or legal issues, as well as eviction history report data.
  • Credit reports: Provides credit scores and histories, highlighting payment patterns and outstanding debts.
  • Income verification: Assesses the tenant's income sources and stability to ensure they can afford the rent.

Pricing:

Renters pay a $35 screening and application fee.

Screening services for short-term rentals

Tenant screening isn't just for long-term rentals. If you list your property on short-term or vacation rental websites, guest screening services provide specialized reports suited for this real estate investing niche. Here are two options to consider:

Autohost

Autohost automates guest screening to help hosts minimize risk and verify the safety and security of their properties.

Key features of Authohost's guest screening service:

  • Risk assessment: Using advanced algorithms, Autohost can assess the risk profile of each guest based on multiple data points. This helps to prevent fraud and potential damage.
  • ID verification: Includes identity verification to make sure guests are who they claim to be. The service does this using government-issued IDs and, in some cases, biometric verification.
  • Credit and background checks: Depending on the host's preferences, reports can include credit checks and background scans for criminal records.

Pricing:

Autohost offers two pricing plans: a pay-as-you-go plan, which depends on the number of screening reports you anticipate using, and a flat fee plan, which charges a consistent monthly fee depending on the number of listings you have.

Safely

Safely helps vacation rental property managers make sure their properties are rented to trustworthy and verified guests. The service focuses on the security of rental properties and the surrounding community.

Key features of Safely's guest screening service:

  • Background checks: Includes thorough background checks that cover criminal records, sex offender registries, and global watchlist records, so hosts can assess potential guests.
  • Predictive analytics: Uses predictive analytics to evaluate the risk associated with each guest based on their past rental history and behavioral data.
  • Identity verification: Verifies the identities of guests using sophisticated methods to confirm that bookings are secure and reliable.

Pricing:

Safely's standalone tenant screening offering is $8 per screening.

Tenant screening best practices

Once you choose a service, here are some best practices to help you thoroughly and fairly evaluate potential tenants:

  • Set your criteria: Before you start the screening process, define your criteria for acceptable tenants. These should include credit score minimums, income requirements, rental history, and any other relevant factors. Make sure these criteria comply with all fair housing laws to avoid partaking in discriminatory screening practices.
  • Use a consistent process: Apply the same screening process to all applicants. This includes using the same application forms, asking the same questions, and conducting the same checks for every potential tenant.
  • Written consent: Make sure you have the applicant’s written consent to conduct these checks as required by law.
  • Detailed screening: Gather all of the potential details with credit and background checks. Don't skimp on any part of the screening process, since these checks give you a complete picture of the applicant's reliability and suitability as a tenant. This due diligence approach helps prevent future issues and promotes a stable rental environment.
  • Interview applicants: While the paperwork can tell you a lot about a tenant, a personal interview can provide additional context and help you assess whether the applicant is a good fit for your property. Use this opportunity to clarify any concerns you noticed during the screening process.
  • Keep updated on Fair Housing Laws: Be sure to understand and comply with local, state, and federal fair housing laws to avoid any discriminatory practices during tenant screening.
  • Document everything: Keep records of all communications, applications, screening processes, and decisions to protect yourself in case of disputes or legal challenges.
  • Denial process: If you decide to deny an application, promptly inform the applicant and provide a clear reason for the denial.

Tenant screening services

Screening potential tenants is one of the most important steps a landlord can take to protect their investment property. Understanding the key elements of a high-quality tenant screening service and the top providers to consider can help you make better decisions.

Evaluating credit history, criminal records, employment status, and previous rental behavior allows you to identify trustworthy individuals. All landlords want tenants who will pay rent on time, follow the lease terms, and properly maintain their property — tenant screening for your real estate investing niche can help you do that.

While the screening process requires some upfront due diligence, it pays dividends by minimizing risks and finding long-term, low-maintenance tenants, making your life as a landlord much easier in the long run.

Best tenant screening services for landlords FAQs

How much is the screening fee for renters in California?

California has regulations around the maximum allowable screening fee that landlords can charge. For 2024, the maximum fee is $65.37.

How do you obtain a portable tenant screening report in Colorado?

To obtain a portable tenant screening report in Colorado, visit the Colorado Housing Connects website or a similar service provider. Request a report, which you can then share with multiple landlords, ensuring it meets the state's legal requirements.

What type of effect does tenant screening have on credit scores?

Tenant screening typically involves a soft inquiry, which does not affect your credit score. 

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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