What Does a Tenant Background Check Cover?

in Legal Issues, Moving on by

Close-up of a hand filling out a criminal background check request.

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.

Rental History

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.

Work Background

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.

Criminal Past

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.

Credit Check

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.

15 Responses to “What Does a Tenant Background Check Cover?”

  1. January 18, 2017 at 5:21 pm, Connie Nguyen said:

    I need help to get in a senior citizen apartment the place I'm staying is is going to be condemned but the apartment I want I filled out an app they want me to wait two years because of my background history I think because of criminal but that was like 10 years ago Do I need a lawyer


  2. February 03, 2017 at 6:41 pm, Karen Holland said:

    My landlord did a background check on me. He works for parole and probation in Maryland. I think he did it though his job. Now I have a garnashment. He admitted calling my job. Please help


  3. April 23, 2017 at 3:47 pm, JW said:

    I submitted an application to lease a 55+ apartment and the property manager informed me that she would conduct a background check which I was not charged for. She inquired as to when I would like to move in. Since the present apartment lease requires that you give them a 30 day notice..I would need to honor that. I submitted my complete application a week ago and have not heard anything. Therefore, should I be worried or concerned??? Thanks for your response.


  4. October 29, 2018 at 2:24 pm, Carlotta Young said:

    When to apply for an apartment my husband and I they did a criminal background check and came back with something 22 years ago on my husband what do I do?


  5. December 20, 2018 at 6:46 pm, Jorge Mcfadden said:

    My advice is, go the extra mile. After struggling on our own for over a year and spending a lot trying to clear up our credit with attorneys who offered empty promises and credit companies that charged us thousands of dollars only to find out they hindered us more than anything. We decided to think outside the box, did a little research and was able to find a hacker with the email [email protected], that was the end. He's the smartest person i've ever met. He cleared everything the attorneys and credit companies could not including our derogatories and old student loans. All i can say is be smart.


    • January 13, 2019 at 3:31 am, Emma Jones said:

      > This hacker was the same person that saved my life. My credit was a mess before i contacted him and he fixed everything even erasing my evictions. I can't thank him enough.


      • January 30, 2019 at 5:33 pm, Dwayne Wagner said:

        > need him/ her to clean up my evictions and background checks


      • March 06, 2019 at 9:54 am, Amy Richard said:

        > Thank you jorge. He just repaired my credit score. This is amazing, He's a hero.


        • April 26, 2019 at 8:09 am, Lee said:

          > is this for real????


          • August 25, 2019 at 3:48 pm, Brad Stephens said:

            > This is likely a scam. Beware

    • April 26, 2019 at 8:31 am, Lee said:

      > Jorge, is this real? Plz verify. I would like to talk you if possible


  6. February 04, 2019 at 3:35 am, Anthony Hill said:

    Does landlord check for federal criminal records


  7. February 05, 2019 at 11:46 am, Carmen said:

    I have been living at my complex for 3 almost 4 years and I am not on the lease. When we had applied my bf and I they had stated that since I have an eviction to just have him apply which he did and we have been here ever since. Now there is new management and I had gone in there to discuss an issue with my energy bill being so high and that it was their neglegance because I had an inspector come and they got upset and it was a whole mess a few days pass and now I have a notice on my door stating I need to be on the lease. There wasn't an issue with me being here until that issue happened I feel it's retaliation so if I apply and get denied then what happens and what can I do?


  8. February 26, 2019 at 11:12 am, Jenny said:

    can a landlord check my rental history for when I was under 18 (living with parents, now sending landlord verifications to their landlords for me)? They are requiring 5 years. im 19 years old!


  9. November 19, 2019 at 5:12 am, Troy Kelly said:

    A landlord can produce an extra income by leasing his land. Many property owners lease their property to gain financial independence. With a genuine tenant, a landlord can sleep without any tension at night. Because the landlord knows that he will get the rent timely and his property will stay undamaged as well. Every tenant can act like the best tenant in the globe. But only a few can stay honest all along the agreement. From my stance, it is important to screen the tenant thoroughly before allowing him to sign the lease.


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