If you’re a landlord, the last thing you want is a tenant who doesn’t pay rent. However, a tenant who has a history of causing property damage or a record as a sex offender is also unwanted.
You need to thoroughly vet every prospective tenant. But who has that kind of time?
Tenant background screening services are fast and affordable. What’s more, the services have a history of checking the history of a tenant! A tenant screening service already has a process for doing a background check and credit report.
Further reading: Business Credit Bureaus
Companies that specialize in tenant background checks aren’t all the same. You will be pleasantly surprised at the affordability of these services. It is well worth your time to hire screening services.
Best Services for Background Checks for Tenants
At a minimum, a credit report is a must-have. But that’s all it is. A credit report won’t let you know if an applicant has a criminal history. A credit report won’t tell you about the time the applicant caused damage to the rental property.
Most screening services offer a menu of reports that you can request for a prospective tenant. You can also branch out the background check to include information from national databases.
We have done the work to identify the best background check services suitable for small business landlords or independents. Here are the 15 tenant background services:
The basic package for RentPrep includes a credit report and social security number check at $18.95. You can also get national screening to include eviction reports, judgements, liens and bankruptcies, and criminal and sex offender information.
RentPrep also has a Facebook group page related to tenant screening, with discussions in Q and A form. RentPrep clients may also enjoy podcasts and other business-related Q & A discussions via the RentPrep Facebook page.
SmartMove has a basic package for $25 which includes a tenant credit score and national criminal record search. Additional prospective tenant background checks include eviction reports, as well as a credit report and background check.
SmartMove uses TransUnion, a credit reporting agency, for its credit checks. Its services can include a “resident score.”
The “resident score” is a credit measurement tool the company uses as part of its screening of prospective tenants. SmartMove conducts a credit check, searches criminal history and checks eviction records. After gathering that data, the tenant applicant gets a “resident score.” That score is used to measure risk.
E-renter offers standard and custom packages. The basic tenant background check package is $19.95 and includes background checks plus identity verification. A tenant credit check is $29.95.
E-renter can do national searches and it can do them fast. Searches can be completed within one hour (or same day after regular business hours and/or weekends).
StarPoint does a basic credit report for just $10.95. A landlord can then chose from a specific menu of reports. In lieu of packages, StarPoint lets the landlord pick and choose which tenant screening report applies to what’s needed.
For example, a landlord can add a statewide criminal records report for $8.95. If a landlord prefers, a national criminal record report is $14.95. The menu of report options is extensive and specific.
MyRental offers a basic tenant referencing package for $24.99. That basic package includes the applicant’s eviction history, criminal and/or sex offender history and a terrorist alert. A landlord can get that basic package, plus a credit report, for $34.99.
MyRental offers additional single reports as well.
Experian offers a comprehensive service that includes more than a background check on a prospective tenant. With an Experian account, a business can do tenant screening and screening of customers, suppliers and contractors.
Without the business account, a basic credit report costs $14.95. That fee is paid by the prospective tenants. The landlord would pay for any additional requested reports.
The cost of the business account varies by the type of screening history reports the landlord will most often require.
Cozy can complete tenant background checks. The company also offers management services to include rental listings, a built-in application for prospective tenants and on-line rent collection. Cozy also offers renters’ insurance.
A background check or a credit report costs $24.99 each, or it is $39.99 for both.
Costs for additional tenant screening reports varies, as does costs for management services. For example, the on-line rent collection service costs $2.99. A standard renters insurance policy costs $20 monthly.
Buildium offers tenant screening services along with management services. The tenant background check can be part of a comprehensive management package.
Buildium does a tenant background check which includes a full credit report, criminal record report and eviction history. Using that information, Buildium comes up with a custom credit score for the applicant. There is a minimum custom credit score requirement for applicants.
The management package can include researching the tenant to arrive at the custom credit score, as well as inspections and lease management. Fees for services vary.
9. Tenant Screening Center Inc. (TSCI)
TSCI has been handling tenant references since 1985. Its services include an on-line rental application, taking that chore from the landlord’s schedule.
The TSCI Rental Connect package is $29.95 and includes the rental application, a credit report and an eviction record search. For $49.95, the landlord can add a criminal history report and various other credit checks.
LeaseRunner offers a full menu of reports for a prospective tenant. An often-used offering is the LeaseRunner instant eviction history report, for $12.
Additional services include a credit report ($20), a criminal report ($15), and financial tenant reference ($10).
LeaseRunner also offer free “for rent” advertising.
The basic TurboTenant report costs $35 and includes a credit report and criminal history check. TurboTenant is set up to have the applicant pay for these reports.
For $45, the landlord can request TurboTenant Pro, which includes a national eviction report check. The applicant also pays for this report.
12. National Tenant Network
The National Tenant Network has a $19.97 membership fee. Members then pay less for searches. For example, a criminal history report costs $8.25 and a sex offender report costs $6.50.
National Tenant Network also offers a service called NTN Decision Point ($18.50). The background search includes evictions and lease violations, a social security number check, terrorist search and previous landlord identifications. The NTN Decision Point includes a credit score plus a recommendation (based on the background search).
Avail is often used by business owners who own multiple housing units. Prospective tenants pay $30 each for a credit report and criminal records check, or $55 for both.
For referencing tenants of housing, a landlord may also opt for a “per unit” fee, starting at $5. That plan includes credit and criminal records checks, as well as on-line rent payments.
The basic TenantAlert package is $24.95 and includes a credit report and also a list of previous addresses.
The Pro report is $39.95 and includes statewide eviction records, criminal history, sex offender check and federal crimes check.
The Pro plus report is $49.95 and expands to national searches of the information sought in the Pro report, plus a search of social security number fraud.
15. Tenant Background Search
The Tenant Background Search standard service is $19.95 and includes a national search of the applicant’s criminal history and sex offender status.
For $22.95, the service adds a credit report with a score, a list of previous addresses, plus any records of foreclosures and medical collections.
For $29.95, the service adds a national eviction check.
Background Screening FAQs
The following frequently asked questions (FAQ) address common concerns of independent landlords about leasing and tenants.
Do I need a written rental application?
Yes, it is best to get a written rental application completed and signed by the tenant. Contact your attorney for an application form that meets your state’s requirements. You can also find online application forms at places like e-renter.
Some tenant checking services include getting an online application. The service may include that as part of an overall checking or management package. If so, a landlord should always have a hard copy, signed, of the online application.
What’s Included in a tenant background check?
A standard background check includes a credit report and criminal history report.
That’s the typical information included in a background check. A landlord may require certain other specific checks, such as previous addresses or eviction records.
A tenant background check (also sometimes called a tenant screening) is different from a credit check. It includes more information to help the landlord make a more informed decision before renting a property to a tenant.
A credit report versus a background check – what is the difference?
A credit report is all numbers. The credit report includes various financial information gathered to develop a credit report.
Here are some examples of information that’s in a credit report: Your Name (including any prior names or aliases); current and previous addresses; your employers past and present; revolving accounts; installment loans and the loan status; open and closed bank accounts; account payment history including utilities; recent credit and loan applications; collection accounts (any accounts that are being handled by a collection agency).
A background check includes the credit report plus other information such as criminal history. It can include other information as requested by a landlord, such as any record of previous evictions or lease violations. The background check can be limited to information on a state database or the report can be expanded to include national and even international searches.
How do I do a background check on a tenant?
Sure, you can do a background check yourself, as long as you meet the following qualifications:
- You have plenty of free time.
- You don’t mind having only yourself to blame if you miss something.
- You’re a talented contractor who can easily do repairs to drywall, plumbing, windows and doors.
Okay, just kidding. But for every glowing report of a great tenant, a landlord has stories of nightmare tenants. There are few things more disheartening to swallow than a tenant who isn’t paying or a tenant who has damaged your building.
What’s your time worth? Background research services are inexpensive, thorough and fast.
Who pays for a background check — tenant or landlord?
That can go either way. A landlord can pay or the tenant can pay, Some tenant background services are set up so that the applicant pays.
We’d argue – if a prospective tenant doesn’t want to pay $20-40 for the credit report and background research, the tenant might not be a good fit for you.
How much does a tenant background check cost?
The cost of a tenant background check ranges from $20 to $40. If you add on a credit check, you may pay an additional $10-20.
Many services over a menu of additional search options with additional costs. Some services offer packages that are all-inclusive.
What else do I need to know as a landlord?
You need to be aware of federal, state and local laws. For instance, you may be required to get the rental agreement in writing. You may be limited in what you can ask of the prospective tenant. Check with your attorney for detailed advice. For quick reference, Avail.co has a good listing and map of state landlord-tenant laws.