Tenant background checks make up a perfectly normal part of the rental process. Whether you’re signing a long-term lease or just a month-to-month agreement, most landlords will want to know if you’re trustworthy, financially stable, and free of a criminal past before agreeing to take you in.
This investigation makes many prospective tenants nervous, because let’s face it: very few people have spotless histories. Still, the majority of landlords understand the challenges that people face and don’t usually judge minor mistakes harshly enough to deny them on the spot.
The key is to be as prepared as possible. To do so, you’ll want read up on all the areas that tenant background checks cover — some of which you’ll even be able to clean up ahead of time.
The places you’ve lived in your life, as well as the amount of time you’ve lived in them, are sure to factor into your background check. The report will show prospective landlords how promptly you paid your rent, whether or not you’ve ever had to pay a late fee, and whether or not you’ve ever been involved in an eviction procedure (regardless of whether or not you ended up being evicted).
While a spotless payment history is ideal, a few indiscretions will usually be forgiven if a valid explanation is provided. After all, most people lose a job or two during their lives or have to deal with a roommate deserting them and leaving them with double rent payments. Be prepared to provide short, concise reasons for any red flags in your rental history. If you have receipts that prove you caught up with your rent after a rough period, provide them. Alternatively, you might consider obtaining a short letter from your former landlord stating you paid all your debts in a reasonable amount of time and as promised. Any positive reflection on your integrity and honesty will definitely go a long way with your new landlord.
Most landlords are primarily concerned with your ability to pay your rent in full every month on the day that it’s due. For that reason, a solid work history is key to passing a background check. If at all possible, provide recent pay stubs or other authorized documents that confirm your monthly take-home income. If you’ve been working for the same company for a long period of time, get a statement from your boss or HR manager confirming your longevity in the position. Dedicated, long-term employment shows landlords that you’re dependable and committed: two highly desirable traits in a prospective tenant.
In the past decade, this part of the background check has started to factor more heavily into renter screening procedures. Don’t worry if you have a few victimless crimes (think unpaid parking tickets) on file. Landlords are usually more concerned with serious offenses like theft, robbery, assault, battery, fraud, driving under the influence, domestic violence, and anything else that indicates you might pose a potential threat to your fellow tenants.
Obtain a copy of your criminal record before you start apartment shopping if you know have a history of any of these types of offenses. Ask the court if any of them can be removed or amended to reflect positive actions such as completed counseling, community service, or a reduction of charges. Be prepared to explain the details of your crime without making excuses for your transgressions. Do your best to present yourself as a reformed person who has truly learned from their past mistakes.
Other than a spotty criminal record, this is the part of the background check that can freak a prospective landlord out the most. Again, every landlord wants assurance that you will fully pay your rent on time. Red flags will pop up if you’ve ever defaulted or consistently paid your bills late.
Although many consider a credit check the most crucial component of a background check, it’s very frustrating to deal with because it contains only numbers, with few or no explanations of what events actually transpired to lower your credit rating. If the report contains any errors, there’s a good chance it’ll take weeks or months of telephone calls and/or emails to get them resolved. Luckily, there are a lot of consumer advocate companies out there that can help you remove old or incorrect information from your credit report. Carefully research a few (scams tend to have the largest ads) and enlist the best one’s services. Even if it costs $40 or $50, it’s a wise investment as long it more accurately reflects your credit history.
The most crucial thing to remember is to focus on the positive aspects of your past. Make a list of the hardest questions you might be asked and have solid, positive responses ready before filling out any applications. Be honest and upbeat, and you’ll have a great shot at getting the rental property you want.