Tenant background checks do differ, and moreso from state to state.
There are state-specific laws pertaining to privacy that limit the amount of free information you can get off a particular state’s website.This also goes for information you are required to buy. It is not always true that you get what you pay for in this arena of personal information on a prospective tenant.
Why would a landlord feel the need to do a tenant background check on a prospective tenant? In this lawsuit-ridden world, it generally is a good idea for any landlord to find out the character of anyone who either lives in his building or is being considered as a roommate. No one needs to look for problems, and if doing a background check can eliminate your vulnerability, it is worth doing. It is better to do the legwork before you allow someone to live in your building than to find yourself having to evict him later on.
The reality is that people may not always tell the complete truth in an application, be it for employment or for getting a suitable living arrangement. There is plenty of information and, for that matter, misinformation on the Internet. But certain private information can be accessed quite easily.
Some examples of easily obtained information are:
– Criminal records going back to at least ten years–but often, what they spent time in jail for
– Failure to pay child support
– If someone is on the Sex Offenders list
– Court records
– Credit check
– Past addresses going back to at least five years
The prospective tenant has to agree that he is aware of the background check and has to, in most states, sign a declaration stating this. Everything has to be done out in the open. Above all else, a landlord, or person in the market for a roommate, has the power to approve or disapprove this prospective tenant without having to tell him why. Not everyone is a fit for everyone else. Living in close proximity with another human is often an adjustment process.
Sometimes landlords get into legal problems when they attempt to do the tenant background check themselves. Issues of discrimination could be possibly brought up. Therefore, even though it requires the expenditure of money, hiring a company that is in the business of doing background checks might be a smart move. This company knows how to run a background check within the laws of the particular state they are doing business in.
The reality is that there are more potential tenant-applicants especially in the densely populated cities, e.g. New York City, Los Angeles. It is a landlord-controlled real estate market, with input from real estate brokers who often steer certain applicants to these landlords, acting as background check companies. There are inherent abuses in this industry, with kickbacks being offered by prospective tenants in order to see a particular apartment, and by the landlords to keep “undesirable” tenants out of their properties. The refusal to allow subletting by current tenants helps keep the status quo (racially, in most cases).