How Extensive Are Background Checks for Apartments?

Last Updated:
April 22, 2023

Applying for an apartment takes a lot of work. You have to scrape together enough cash for two months of rent plus a security deposit, complete your application on time, and submit to a background check. Depending on the landlord you’re working with, your background check might include several important elements.

So just how extensive are background checks for apartments? Read on to discover the answer.

What Are Background Checks for Apartments?

Background checks for apartments our comprehensive, in-depth deep dives into apartment applicants’ histories. In essence, landlords want to know that they extend tenancy offers to individuals that they can trust.

Landlords spend a lot of time putting together apartment buildings, maintaining them, and working on collecting rent. The last thing they want is to accept a new tenant, only for that tenant to have problematic behaviors like not paying rent on time, destroying the property, etc. 

By ordering background checks through dedicated background screening services, apartment landlords know that each tenant they accept will be likely to pay rent on time and likely to follow the rules. To ensure that the background checks are valuable and provide accurate information, they usually include a few key elements.

Major Elements of Apartment Background Checks

Let’s take a look at what’s usually included in background checks for apartments.

Credit Checks

Landlords want to check potential tenants’ credit histories, so this is usually included in apartment background checks.

Credit reports and credit histories are summations of a person's financial activities and creditworthiness. They include records of bills, debts paid, loans taken out, lines of credit, and more. All of that information is summarized into a credit score; the higher the credit score, the more financially trustworthy the person probably is.

Landlords want to know about credit checks because they can indicate whether a person pays their debts on time. A person who pays debts on time is also likely to pay rent on time!

Note that, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, most landlords have to deliberately ask for permission to check your credit. This is called a “hard” credit check, and it may result in your credit score decreasing by a few points. You must provide written permission for the background check to include this information. If you fail to do so, the landlord may decide not to offer you tenancy at their apartment building. 

Criminal History Reports

Most apartment background checks also include records of criminal convictions or activities. These can include outright criminal convictions for misdemeanors or felonies, arrest records, or even criminal accusations.

A criminal conviction doesn't necessarily mean you won't qualify for an apartment, but it does make your chances lower. However, if you ask a court to seal or expunge criminal records and your request is granted, those criminal records may not show up on a background check (as they have been either blocked off or deleted, respectively).

Furthermore, depending on your state of residence, your criminal records may automatically vanish from background checks after a certain amount of time. As an example, in California, any criminal convictions, with the exception of certain felonies, should no longer appear on background reports after seven years.

Eviction Reports

Naturally, apartment owners are very concerned about whether a prospective tenant has any evictions in their past. Since past behavior is a major protector for future behavior, even a single eviction record is a major red flag in the eyes of landlords.

Thus, most background checks for apartments include eviction reports and histories. If you have any evictions in your past, your background check report will likely include their date and any notes or other circumstances that can impact a landlord’s decision.

Employment History and Status Check

Lastly, the majority of Apartment background checks include breakdowns of tenants’ employment histories and statuses.

Landlords want to know where you worked before. A long line of steady jobs for good companies is a solid indicator of your consistency and steadiness as a person, too. Furthermore, landlords usually refuse to offer apartments to individuals who are not currently employed. After all, if you’re not employed, landlords may not believe you when you say you can pay rent every month.

Be sure to accurately list your employment on your apartment application and a record of your income. If your job is a little unique or rare, such as freelancing, you may need to provide proof of income over several months or years in order to convince a landlord that your income is indeed consistent enough to meet your rental applications.

So, How Extensive Are Apartment Background Checks Compared to Other Background Checks?

As you can see, apartment background checks take a look at a lot of information. However, they aren’t as extensive as other background checks for other purposes.

For example, if you apply for a top-tier management position at a local bank, you can bet that the background check will look at even more information. Such a background screening may include further info like:

  • Social Security number verification and tracing
  • Educational history and degree verification (to ensure that candidates have the degrees they say they do)
  • Employment reference checking
  • And more

What if You See an Error on Your Apartment Background Check Report?

In any case, apartment background checks include tons of information. Therefore, it’s possible that the apartment background screening agency responsible for the work made one or more mistakes.

If you are denied an apartment opportunity on the basis of some element of your background info, the landlord has to tell you that with an adverse action letter. As you receive the adverse action letter, you’ll be able to access a copy of your residential history report. Take a long, close look at the report and try to see if you spot any errors, such as:

  • Outright erroneous information, like eviction records for evictions that never took place
  • Outdated information, like a record of a loan that you already paid off
  • Information from someone else, such as the wrong Social Security number

Any and all of these errors can throw your apartment opportunity into jeopardy. A landlord might look at the negative or inaccurate information and see it as a red flag. They don’t know that the information is erroneous, so you need to bring it to their attention and dispute the issue with the background check agency responsible for the mistake. 

To do this:

  • Look at your residential history background report – the contact information for the background check agency should be listed on the form
  • Contact the agency or visit their website. All agencies need to allow you to file a dispute with them via physical mail or online. Filing online is advised because it’s faster and easier
  • Gather information and evidence proving that some information is inaccurate or erroneous, then submit your dispute letter
  • After receiving your letter, the background check agency has 30 business days to take a look at the information and fix it if it is indeed inaccurate or outdated

With a little luck, the background check agency will jump on the chance to correct its false information and tell the landlord. You may even qualify for the apartment you wanted if it hasn’t already been taken!

Contact Fair Credit Today

Most apartment background checks examine your credit history, criminal records, eviction reports, and your employment history. If all of those elements look good, you’ll qualify for most apartment opportunities. But if you notice major errors or inaccurate information on your background check report, contact Fair Credit for guidance during the dispute process.

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