How to do a tenant background check
Landlords, property managers and property owners are increasingly using tenant background checks in order to screen tenants before letting. For some it's the only way to protect their property from careless or objectionable tenants, but with the potential for thousands of dollars of damage to any property and the difficulty of evicting a tenant who fails to pay the rent, it can be a safe precaution for all.
There are a certain number of checks you can easily carry out yourself. Make sure to verify phone numbers and previous addresses by using the telephone book, operator assistance or a criss cross (Haines) directory. A Haines directory is available at most public libraries and will tell you who the occupants of an address are as well as the phone owner - this way you can search for someone who was previously a tenant in a building but did not have the phone bill in their name.
Make sure you ask your tenant for previous addresses and for references. Check all the numbers and addresses to make sure they are valid and correspond to the company or address mentioned. Call the employer and previous landlords for references. Be wary of any number that leads to an answer machine and a call back. It's easy to have a friend call back with a positive report after a message is left at their home.
To check credit or criminal records it's usually best to pay a background check company to perform these checks. Make sure to ask plenty of questions about their services and where they get their information - if the individual has lived in several states the tenant background check needs to be more thorough. The agency should be able to provide you with a credit report, criminal record check, eviction report and a list of prior addresses. Expect to pay about $100 for this service.
Online tenant background checks are also available and the low fees and promise of instant reports generally make them look very tempting. Most online agencies offer instant access to credit reports, eviction reports and verification of prior addresses. Prices for these services can range from about $5 to $45 but as always you pay for what you get and 'instant' searches can never uncover the whole story. Databases used are often out of date and many of the criminal reports require court runners to visit county courthouses for access to information – this type of thing can never be delivered instantly or online so be sure to check exactly what you are getting as part of your check before you pay.
Cutting corners when it comes to tenant background checks can be costly if something goes wrong. Damage to your property, the countless headaches of problem tenants and unpaid rents can cost much more than the fees required by a background check agency. Having a problem-free tenancy is well worth that hundred bucks.