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What Background Checks Do Landlords Do?

If you are going to rent a place, your landlord is going to run a background check on you. But a lot of people don’t know what they are looking for or what they might find. In this article, we give you the lowdown on landlord background checks, reveal the information they are looking for, what they might find, and how you can get one step ahead of them.

When you sign a contract to rent a house, the chances are you are agreeing to allow the landlord to run a background check on you.

Background checks are commonly used by landlords to find out about the sort of person they are allowing to live in their property and to make sure they will be able to afford the rent.

But a background check can reveal a lot more about a person than that and some people are uncomfortable about what their landlord might be able to find out about them.

The good news is that most landlord background checks are restricted to information relevant to your tenancy. But a full background check can reveal more which is why it is important to understand what a background check could reveal about you before making a move to rent that dream apartment or house.

What is a background check?

If you haven’t come across the term before, a background check is an online service or company which scours through various publicly available records to find out information about people.

A lot of people are unaware that there is a huge amount of information about them which is held in the public domain and can be accessed by anyone. Searching through this data used to be a time-consuming and arduous task but it has been made easier by the advent of the internet age and the digitization of many records.

A background checking site can now search through millions of records in just a few seconds and compile a fairly accurate profile of most US citizens in no more than a few minutes.

The sort of information a background check can reveal includes:

  • Credit history
  • Financial records
  • Employment history
  • Criminal records (state, county, and city)
  • Education history (high school and college)
  • Work authorization
  • License details
  • Driving record
  • Social media profiles

On its own, this information wouldn’t tell you very much. But put together it reveals a compelling and often accurate picture of what a person is like. Often this picture can go beyond what a landlord needs to know to decide if they want to rent you their property.

Landlords are not the only people who run background checks. They are used for all sorts of different purposes including:

  • Employment checksemployers often run background checks on prospective staff to check their resume and ensure that they don’t have any undisclosed criminal records or anything else that would stop them from being hired.
  • Criminal checks – A lot of people want to know if the new person in their neighborhood or a new friend of the family is not hiding a secret criminal past. A background check is a simple way to do just that.
  • Tracking down a lost family member or friend – Background checks have made tracking down a lost family member or old schoolfriend quick and easy. Much to the annoyance of private detectives who have lost a lucrative revenue stream.
  • Finding out more about someone – If there is someone in your life you want to know more about, such as a new neighbor or your daughter’s new boyfriend, a background check is a perfect way to find out everything about them.
  • Checking your own records – There is lots of publicly held information about you out there too and it is worth knowing what might come up when a new landlord or someone else looks into you. Running a background check on yourself is a quick and simple way to tell you what information about yourself is in the public domain.

What is the most effective background checking site?

Before making a move to rent an apartment or applying for a new job, it is always worth taking a look to see what a background check on yourself might reveal.

Landlords will not use public background checking sites to look into tenants as they have to use corporate ones that comply with all the necessary regulations. But these sites will throw up all the same key information as public background checking sites.

A public background checking service only costs a few dollars a month and could mean the difference between whether your landlord approves your tenancy or not.

So, if you want to run your own background check on yourself to see what your landlord might find out, these are the top two most effective background checking sites to use:

1. TruthFinder

TruthFinder - Editors choice

TruthFinder is a hugely reliable background checking site that can generate accurate results almost every time. We even tested it by inputting misleading or wrong information and it still managed to pull together the right information on most occasions. TruthFinder is a truly robust research tool and if you want to find out about someone but only have a little information to go on, it is a great bet.

TruthFinder returns results pretty fast and information is laid out in a report that is well-structured and easy to navigate. There is a user-friendly desktop dashboard that is beautifully designed and really helps with search management.

Our research team was also very impressed with the TruthFinder customer support too. It is available around the clock and on a toll-free number which means you can help whenever you need it and don’t have to pay a cent for the privilege.

EXCLUSIVE DEAL: Looking for deep insight into your own public record? Try TruthFinder, one of the industry titans. Get the service with our generous reader discount.

2. Instant CheckMate

Instant Checkmate - Editors choice

Instant CheckMate is a perfect choice if you need to get information fast. As the name suggests, Instant CheckMate generates full background check reports faster than almost any other site we have tested. This speed doesn’t mean it is less accurate either. Our tests found Instant CheckMate had an extremely high accuracy rate and we found their reports well-designed and simple to understand.

Instant CheckMate costs at $34.78 per month or you can choose to pay $27.82 for a three-month subscription. This means it isn’t the cheapest site but it does deliver value for money and if you need fast results, it is certainly worth the money.

The Instant CheckMate desktop dashboard is neat and simple to navigate around and their apps were especially impressive. They can be downloaded onto Android and iOS devices and make running an Instant CheckMate search a real pleasure. With a helpful support team in place too, Instant CheckMate is another great background checking site.

What information is included in a landlord background check?

All of the background checking sites recommended in this article will give you a comprehensive insight into anyone you want to research. Landlords will use different sites to conduct their searches but they will return much of the same information.

Exactly what information a landlord sees will depend on a number of different factors. Different landlord background check sites pull up different information. Depending on where in the country they are based, the State laws are likely to differ on what information they are allowed to look at. Also, some landlords are only interested in seeing certain bits of information (usually financial records) and aren’t too interested in the rest.

But in general terms, a landlord background check is likely to reveal the following information:

  • County or state criminal records – Some landlords aren’t keen on renting to people with a criminal record, especially if it includes certain offenses such as drug use or financial crimes. A landlord check will therefore often reveal if you have any such offenses on your record.
  • Sex Offender Registry – Not every state allows landlords to discriminate against sex offenders but many still do and a lot of landlords are reluctant to rent to tenants who are on the sex offenders register.
  • Proof of Income – Most landlords are most concerned that they receive their rent every month. A proof of income report is therefore crucial to ensure prospective tenants have enough funds coming in to cover their rent.
  • Credit Report – Your credit report gives landlords a broader insight into your financial history and confirms whether or not you are responsible with money. They cannot see your credit score, but they can see things like loan amounts, bankruptcies, debts you are repaying, and if you have been sued in the past for failing to pay rent.
  • Landlord References – Landlords are likely to approach previous landlords of yours to enquire about the type of tenant you were, whether you paid the rent on time, how you looked after the property, and so on.
  • Eviction History – Landlords can check to see if you have a record of being sued for eviction from a previous property. They can also check this with your previous landlord referees.
  • Employment History – Landlords can check to confirm that you are currently employed and to see whether or not you have a history of unemployment. They may also contact previous employers for a reference.

Not all landlords will search for or consider all of this information but many will, which is why it is helpful to know in advance what sort of information about you they might be able to access.

Are Landlord background checks regulated?

If a landlord chooses to use a consumer background checking site, as most do, their searches will fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). These regulations restrict what information will be made available to landlords and govern what they can and cannot use when making their decision.

However, landlords are not obliged to use consumer checking sites. Corporate landlords usually will, but if a landlord is just renting out a single property, they may well choose not to. In that case, they are likely to use a site such as the ones we have recommended in this article.

If that is the case, then FCRA regulations will not apply.

There is one piece of legislation that all landlords are required to adhere to. The Fair Housing Act states that no landlord can discriminate against a tenant on the basis of race or color, religion, national origin, marital status, age, disability, gender, or pregnancy.

A background check will reveal much of this information but if a landlord uses it as an excuse not to rent a property to you, they are breaking the law.


The precise information that a landlord will look at in a tenant background check varies depending on how they conduct the check, which state they are in, and what information they are interested in.

In this article, we have explained the type of information they most often look at and what regulations govern this process.

We have also revealed the advantages of running a background check on yourself before seeking to rent a property and suggested the two best background checking sites to use for this.

Do you have any experience of running landlord background checks? What sort of information did you look for? Perhaps you have been subjected to a landlord background and denied a property because of what they found. It is always helpful to hear about readers’ experiences and advice so please do share them with us using the comment box below.

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