What Background Checks Do Landlords Do?

By Michael Klazema on 4/2/2019

In most cases, when applying to rent an apartment, house, or other property from a landlord or property management company, a prospective tenant will need to submit to a background check. Landlords use these screenings to learn more about their applicants and make educated guesses about the kind of tenants those applicants will be.

Landlords typically want tenants who will pay the rent on time every month, be safe and trustworthy neighbors, and respect the property. Tenant background checks are geared toward finding tenants who meet these expectations.

Tenant Background Checks: What They Include

Landlords may handle their tenant background screening processes differently. However, in most cases, a tenant background check will focus on five primary areas.

  • Criminal History: Most landlords will check criminal histories for their candidates. The goal is primarily to determine whether the housing applicant has a background that might indicate a risk to the safety of other residents or the property and its surroundings. Violent crimes, sexual offenses, drug offenses, arson, theft, and destruction of property are all red-flag issues that might lead a landlord to disqualify an applicant. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has stated that landlords should not reject candidates based on arrests that lack corresponding convictions.

  • Credit History: Some landlords look mostly at credit scores. Others pay closer attention to the nuances of a candidate’s credit history to determine why an applicant might have a low credit score. In any case, credit is undoubtedly a major focus in most tenant background screening processes. The general assumption is that a candidate with a good credit score will be more reliable about paying his or her rent on time every month.

  • Employment: Some landlords will conduct full employment history background checks while others will just seek proof of current employment and income. The landlord may request a copy of a tenant’s paystub or most recent tax return, or he or she may just opt to contact the applicant’s employer to directly confirm employment and salary.

  • Identity and address history: It isn’t uncommon for landlords to conduct Social Security Number verification on their candidates. These checks can verify identity, reveal aliases and alternate names, and provide address history details. A landlord might then use this information to flesh out the criminal background screening process.

  • Rental history and evictions: Housing applications will sometimes include a section for prospective tenants to list their rental histories, including locations and the names of landlords or property managers. This information is central to the reference check part of the tenant background screening, during which prospective landlords contact former landlords to ask whether the applicant was a quality tenant. This part of the process might also involve county civil background checks to search for a history of evictions.

By conducting tenant background checks spanning these five categories, landlords can determine whether they expect a tenant to be reliable, respectful, and safe. Since landlords are renting out property they own to people they don’t know, these checks are an important safeguard. They are also a necessary due diligence to protect other tenants and nearby neighbors from potentially dangerous people and situations.

At, we offer a range of background check products that are central to the tenant background screening process. Our partnership with TransUnion give our customers access to trusted SmartMove online tenant screening services.

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