Background Checks for Renters

According to federal law, a landlord may conduct a full background check on people who are interested in renting an apartment. The federal Fair Housing Act and state laws prohibit landlords from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability when conducting background checks. A landlord must use the same background check guidelines for all prospective tenants.

Many landlords who are renting apartments conduct background checks as part of the application process. They may also conduct background checks if they offer Section 8 rent relief for public housing.

A person who has been convicted of a crime, especially one involving violence or drugs, may have trouble passing a background check. Landlords used to exclude only potential renters with felony convictions, but in the 2000s many began to take misdemeanor convictions more seriously. Nonviolent criminals may be able to find a landlord who is willing to overlook a conviction or who does not conduct a background check.

Federal and state laws allow a landlord to verify an applicant’s income by making phone calls or requesting copies of pay stubs. A landlord can deny a rental application if the prospective renter does not have enough income to afford the apartment. A landlord cannot deny a person with enough income if the source of the money is child support, alimony, or disability benefits.

Most people with bad or no credit need a co-signer to rent an apartment or need to pay a higher security deposit. The Fair Housing Act does not consider it discrimination to refuse to rent an apartment to someone with a negative bill-paying history. Landlords usually check to see if a person has been evicted or filed bankruptcy in the past. People with a negative credit history or problems with past landlords can be more of a housing risk than people who always pay their bills on time.