Before a landlord will agree to rent an apartment to you, they’ll carry out an apartment background check to make sure that you’re a suitable tenant. Landlords want to know that you’re going to pay the rent on time and honor the conditions of your lease, and they want to know that you won’t be a problem tenant.
A background check apartment is a useful tool for the landlord, but for renters, the background check often leads to an anxious few days while they wait to hear if they’ve been approved.
If you’ve never been through a background check for an apartment before or you’re curious about the process, this guide will demystify rental background checks and help you understand what information your landlord is gathering about you.
How to pass a background check for an apartment? Let’s jump in!
What Does A Background Check Apartment Reveal About You?
This is the big question – what information is the landlord looking for? And the answer is a lot.
Your background information is split into 4 categories, so let’s look at each one in more detail.
#1. Your Rental History
If you’ve rented an apartment or other property before, there’s a good chance that your previous landlord(s) shared information about your payment history with a credit reporting bureau.
If you’ve always paid your rent on time, this is great because your new landlord will see a strong history of on-time payments.
But if you’ve been late with payments, those late payments will be recorded on your rental report and will hurt your chances of passing the background check.
In addition to the rental history report, a landlord may also choose to contact your previous landlords to find out what kind of tenant you were.
They’ll want to know if you completed your full lease or if you skipped out early, if you were a courteous neighbor or a noisy neighbor, and what condition you left the apartment in when you vacated the property.
What If You Don’t Have A Rental History? If this is your first apartment rental, don’t worry, having no rental history won’t disqualify you. The landlord will use the rest of your application information and background report to form an opinion about you.
#2. Employment and Income Verification
Landlords need to make sure you can afford to pay the rent, and that’s why they’re interested in your current job, how long you’ve been there, and how much you earn.
They like to see a stable employment record, and working for over 6 months for your current employer is evidence of that.
However, it’s a fact of life that people change jobs, and one of the main reasons people move apartments is because they’re working somewhere new, so being a new employee won’t be a deal breaker.
Without a long enough history at your current job, the landlord could check with your previous employer.
But what if you’ve just started your first job and don’t have any employment history? If you’re trying to rent your first apartment and you’ve just started your first job, a landlord may ask you for a cosigner since they don’t have any rental or employment history to base their decision on. They could also be satisfied with a larger security deposit.
Why does a landlord need to know how much you earn? A landlord asks for your annual or monthly income so they can work out if you can afford the rent. Your pre-tax income will typically need to be 3 times the rent amount since that’s the amount that affordability figures are based on.
However, given the rising price inflation in the rental market, some landlords could be flexible on this point.
When they contact your employer, the landlord will ask for verification of your salary, so make sure you put an accurate figure on your application.
#3. Your Credit Report
Your credit report includes information about the number and type of credit accounts you hold, your credit limits, your account balances, your credit card, loan, and bill payment history, defaults, collections, and bankruptcy information. This information is supplied by credit reporting bureaus.
Credit reports also contain the details of your current or previous employers and your past addresses, when that information was supplied during loans or credit card applications.
Consumer reporting agencies pull credit reports from the 3 major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Did you know you can get a free credit report from these agencies once every 12 months? By checking your credit report, you’ll be able to see your credit score and find out if there are any errors on your file, or problems that you can fix.
It’s becoming increasingly common for landlords to specify a minimum credit score that applicants have to meet to be eligible to rent an apartment. You’ll often see something like “credit score 600 minimum” on an apartment listing.
Even if a minimum credit score isn’t required, landlords will often take your credit score into consideration, along with your other financial information.
A few negative spots on your credit history won’t always lead to a rental rejection, but you could be asked for a larger security deposit or a co-signer for your lease.
An apartment background check can also find out about tax liens, foreclosures, and civil judgments (including evictions) which are all matters of public record, although they don’t automatically appear on your credit report.
#4. Your Criminal History
Your tenants’ background check includes a criminal history report. This report reveals misdemeanor and felony convictions, dismissed cases, and deferred judgments.
Landlords can legally refuse to rent to you because of your record if they feel you could pose a threat to their property or to their other tenants.
The Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination due to race, sex, disability, religion, color, family status, or national origin, but federal law doesn’t offer any protection to offenders.
Can you pass a rental background check with a criminal record? Sometimes, you can, it depends on the offense, how long ago it took place, and the landlord’s policy.
Some landlords refuse to rent to tenants with a felony, and they say so on their property website or on the apartment listing, while individuals with a misdemeanor may be welcome to apply. Other landlords won’t even accept an applicant with a misdemeanor offense on their record.
Large apartment complexes owned by corporations are more likely to have a strict policy toward offenders than smaller landlords with a few apartments in a single building.
It’s a good idea to call the landlord or apartment manager and ask about their criminal background policy before you put in a rental application.
How Far Back Does A Apartment Background Check Go?
There’s no definitive answer to this question because landlords can choose how far back they want to check. Some may only be interested in the last 3 years of your history, others will want to look at the last 7 years or 10 years, or for a criminal conviction, even longer.
But there are some federal and state limits on background checks that landlords and consumer reporting agencies have to follow.
Federal Law Limiting Background Checks
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law governing consumer reports, and it sets limits on the period a consumer report can cover regarding your credit and rental history. The FCRA does not limit reporting on criminal convictions.
A background check on your apartment can report the last 7 years of your credit and payment history, rental history, and civil judgments. A chapter 13 bankruptcy within the last 7 years will also be reported, as will a chapter 7 bankruptcy within the last 10 years.
States Limiting Criminal Background Checks
Some states limit criminal background reports to 7 years:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
Renters in California should know that Berkeley and Oakland have both passed local ordinances which prevent landlords from carrying out criminal background checks on prospective tenants.
How Much Does A Background Check For an Apartment Cost?
Your background check for an apartment is included in your rental application fee. You won’t need to pay an additional charge.
Apartment application fees typically range from $30 to $50, although some landlords may charge a higher amount, and in some cases, can charge as much as $200.
What happens if you don’t pass – will the landlord refund the application fee? Unfortunately, apartment application fees are non-refundable, so you won’t get your money back if the landlord rejects your application.
If you’re turned down after a background check, the FCRA says you’re entitled to know why you were rejected and you’re also entitled to a free copy of your report so you can see the negative information it contains.
How Long Does A Background Check Take For An Apartment?
You’ll usually know the outcome of your rental application in about 1 week. The background check from the consumer reporting agency doesn’t take long, but following up with your employer and previous landlord adds some extra time on top. You could hear from the landlord in a couple of days, but 1 week is a common timeframe.
Can You Get An Apartment Without Going Through A Background Check?
If the apartment you want to rent is part of a large apartment complex operated by a property management company, then you will have to go through a background check.
Some apartment complexes will consider second-chance tenants who can’t pass the credit check for most other apartments, although their rent may be higher, and you’ll often need to pay a bigger security deposit.
Private landlords may be more flexible with their background check policy, but most will still run a background check before they make a decision about renting to you.
If you know you’ve got problems with your background report, it’s best, to be honest with the landlord before you apply. Tell them about your issues and ask if there’s anything you can do to reassure them you’ll be a responsible tenant.
They may ask you for a higher security deposit, several months’ rent in advance, a cosigner to guarantee the rent, or character references.
Before you apply for an apartment, get a free copy of your credit report and fix any errors it contains. When your report contains negative information, tell the landlord before you apply and explain why you had missed or late payments.
If you know that you’ve got other factors in your background that could cause you a problem, be honest about your situation before you fill out an application, and find out if there’s anything you can do to reassure the landlord, like getting a cosigner, supplying more references, or paying a higher security deposit.
It never hurts to find out what’s negotiable and what isn’t before you pay an application fee.
See Also: Apartments for rent that accept evictions.
Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.