When you’re in the process of trying to find a home to rent, it’s already a stressful experience. This is especially true considering the impact of inflation on the price of rent, which is soaring.
Then, the thought of having to go through a background check can add to your stress, especially if there’s something like bad credit history or a criminal conviction that they might see. You can read more on unmask.com.
From the landlord’s perspective, while it’s time-consuming to screen tenants, it’s important because they want to rent to people who will take care of the property and pay on time.
There are legal guidelines that landlords have to follow as far as screening potential tenants and how they use the information they find.
The following is a breakdown of the renter screening process and also scenarios when a landlord can legally refuse to rent to someone.
Can Landlords Run Background Checks?
A landlord does have the right to check your criminal history, credit, and rental history.
A rental background check is a screening tool that can provide a pretty comprehensive overview of your behavior in the past. Most of the data a landlord looks at comes from the three credit bureaus, which are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. This data helps show a landlord how responsible you could be financially, as a renter.
Other things that a landlord may check and be able to see along with your credit score and history include:
- Personal details
- Your current address—you’ll also provide this, so a landlord is likely looking to make sure that what they find matches what you provided. Some landlords want to see the current living situation of a renter.
- Income—on an application, you write your income, and a landlord will want to verify that and see how the price of rent compares to your income.
- Address history—there are ways for landlords to look up your entire address history.
- Employment history
- Public records—these include civil judgments, bankruptcies, and tax liens.
- Eviction records
- Criminal records—landlords have to be careful here because consumer protection laws are expanding, and just because someone has a criminal record doesn’t automatically mean a landlord can turn you down unless there’s a possible connection between the record and the ability to be a good renter.
Landlords Have to Be Consistent
A landlord, while they have the legal right to screen applicants, needs to make sure they’re showing consistency with all applicants. A landlord can’t pick and choose who to screen for certain reasons like race, national origin, sex, or familial status, for example.
A landlord should have a separate document to get written permission from applicants to check their background. When using a third-party service to check the background of a potential tenant, the landlord should follow the regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
According to the FCRA, a clear and conspicuous form needs to be provided, separate from the rental application, stating the screens that a landlord is going to run. Then, the applicant should sign to give their permission.
Applicants need to be made aware that the information in the background check may impact the rental decision.
Renting To a Tenant with a Criminal Record
A landlord does get to make the final decision as to which tenants they rent to but within the parameters of certain guidelines. Through the screening process, a landlord can access someone’s criminal records, but there are limitations on how they use the information.
The Federal Fair Housing Act is something every landlord should be well-aware of.
When reviewing the criminal record of a possible tenant, the landlord has to take into consideration a wide variety of offenses. They can’t simply say they aren’t renting to someone because they have a criminal record.
The landlord has to consider the offense and its severity, whether or not the person was convicted, how recent the offense was, and how many offenses there are. The landlord must consider whether or not a tenant could put other renters at risk and whether the offense could impact their ability to pay rent.
Broadly denying housing to someone with any type of criminal history is considered discrimination according to the Federal Fair Housing Act. A landlord can have certain policies to deny housing to individuals with specific past crimes, though.
The Federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t have specific protections for people with criminal records in activities related to housing.
Instead, the HUD Office of General Counsel has guidelines for landlords and how they approach applicants with criminal records. If a landlord has a policy that universally restricts tenants based on criminal history it could be a discriminatory practice. Then, HUD further breaks it down into two categories—intentional and unintentional discrimination.
Other Times a Landlord Can Turn Someone Down
Landlords can set the conditions that are optimal for tenants as long as they’re related to business needs and aren’t violating any anti-discrimination laws.
You could be rejected for poor credit history or income that wouldn’t seem sufficient for you to pay your rent.
A previous eviction lawsuit can disqualify you, as can negative references from either an employer or landlord.
If you’re a smoker or you have pets, you can be denied because pet owners and smokers aren’t a protected group under anti-discrimination laws.
If a landlord is going to ask questions that could be related to their business and ability to earn income from the rental, they have to make sure every applicant is asked the same questions. Again, a landlord can’t single out certain groups and ask different questions.
Landlords can’t advertise a rental property as being good for singles or families, nor can they give different agreements or terms to people of different groups.
There are a number of legitimate things that a landlord can use as reasons to turn down your rental application. Simply having a criminal record usually isn’t enough, however, unless it might affect the safety or their business in some way, which they might have to demonstrate.