How Extensive Are Background Checks For Apartments 2022

Your search was successful and you’ve discovered a great apartment. Before you can move in, you will most likely have to navigate the application process. Part of that process will probably be a background check. Landlords rely on background checks to get to know you a little better and see if there’s anything they should be concerned about. Their rental property is a major investment, so they want to choose their tenants wisely. But you might find the whole process a bit intimidating. To make it less so, let’s review how long a background check could take, how far back it might go, what landlords are looking for, and what your rights are as a renter.

HOW LONG DOES A BACKGROUND CHECK TAKE?

The entire application process usually takes only a few days – anywhere from 48 to 72 hours. The background check is a very small part of the overall application process and should only take one to three hours to complete.

HOW EXTENSIVE IS A BACKGROUND CHECK?

A background check covers several different things. Here are a few items your landlord may look at:

Your rental history.

The background check will include a rental history report. This report lists all the addresses of your previous rentals, along with the contact information for your former landlords and property managers. If you don’t have a rental history, this won’t necessarily disqualify you from getting the apartment. In this case, the landlord may look at your references, proof of employment, and pay stubs. The landlord simply wants to make sure you will pay your rent on time. If you have an eviction in your past, or if you consistently paid your rent late, this could be a red flag for the landlord and it could lead to them rejecting your application.

Your employment history.

Landlords typically want your income to be three times the monthly rent. When they look into your employment history, they’ll want to verify your income, make sure you work where you said you work, and they’ll look at how long you’ve been at that job.

The landlord might call your employer to verify your length of employment. Typically, they would like to see that you’ve worked in the same place for at least six months. But don’t worry if you just started a new job – you can get letters of recommendation to show the landlord, or you can ask your employer to write a letter explaining that you’re a new hire. Some apartment communities and landlords might even accept offer letters. The landlord mainly wants to make sure you’ll stay for the duration of your lease. Someone who changes jobs every couple of months might be less inclined to stay put in an apartment for an entire year. You can also consider offering to pay a higher security deposit, show your bank statement to prove you have enough in savings to cover the rent for several months, or ask someone to cosign for you if necessary.

Your credit history.

Most landlords and apartment communities are looking for a credit score of 600 or more, but it isn’t always that simple. Even if your score is on the lower end, that doesn’t necessarily lead to an automatic rejection. The score is a factor, but landlords will probably look for patterns in your credit history, as well. For example, if you consistently paid your bills on time until an unexpected event like a job loss, the landlord should be able to tell this from your credit report and consider this information when deciding.

If you haven’t checked your credit score lately, it’s a good idea to get your credit report. You can see what your current score is and, if there are any errors on your report, you can get them fixed before a landlord runs a background check. If your credit is below 600 or you don’t have a credit history, the landlord might request a guarantor (someone who will cosign for you).

Your criminal history.

The criminal background check doesn’t just look at convictions. It also pulls non-convictions (cases that were dismissed or not prosecuted). Non-convictions might stay on your history report for seven years, while convictions stay on your history report permanently unless you are able to have your record expunged or sealed. If there’s something you are concerned about in your history, be up front with the landlord. This will give you a chance to explain the situation before the landlord finds it on your report.

HOW FAR BACK DO APARTMENT BACKGROUND CHECKS GO?

A credit check will generally go back seven to 10 years, according to TransUnion. Most negative information, such as defaulting on a loan or having a car repossessed, will stay on your credit report for seven years. A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.

It’s important to note that while landlords can use the information in your credit report to reject your application, their criteria for accepting or rejecting an applicant must be consistent. They cannot apply one set of standards to one person and a different set of standards to another. This would violate federal fair housing laws. Some states also have laws concerning background checks and applications, so be sure to investigate your state laws when applying.  

HOW MUCH DOES A BACKGROUND CHECK COST?

When you apply for an apartment, you’ll likely pay an application fee. This fee covers the background check. A rental application fee typically runs about $30 to $50, but some landlords could charge more. Some states put a limit on the amount of the application fee, but not all. Check your local laws to see if there’s a cap on the amount landlords can charge in your area. You shouldn’t have to pay much more than the cost to conduct the credit report, so be wary of a landlord who charges an exceptionally high amount for an application fee.

If you are applying through Apartments.com, you’ll pay one small amount and you can apply to up to 10 participating apartment communities within 30 days. The apartments that participate in the program have a green “apply now” button on their listing.

DO ALL APARTMENTS DO BACKGROUND CHECKS?

Most apartment communities and independent landlords will do some type of background check. If you are applying to an apartment community owned by a large property management company, it may be more difficult to get them to consider you if your background check turns up some issues. If you are concerned about your credit history, a private landlord may be more willing to work with you since it is much more one-on-one.

Some things you can do to overcome a less-than-ideal background check includes getting references, being honest with the landlord, and offering a concession like paying a higher security deposit or signing a longer lease.

BACKGROUND CHECKS AND YOUR RIGHTS

If a landlord rejects your application, they must provide you with notice (written, oral, or electronic) explaining why they are denying your application. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they are also required to give you the contact information for the company that provided the report. The notice should also explain how to correct inaccurate information and how to get a free copy of the report within 60 days of the landlord’s decision if you request one.

Consumer reporting agencies cannot report outdated negative information. Information is considered outdated if it is more than seven years old for negative information or for bankruptcies more than 10 years old.

It could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act for a landlord to have a blanket policy of refusing to rent to anyone with a criminal record. This would be considered arbitrary and overbroad. According to HUD, “Policies that exclude persons based on criminal history must be tailored to serve the housing provider’s substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” Landlords need to take into consideration factors such as the type of crime and the length of time since the conviction.

Even if a landlord has a tailored policy of only excluding applicants with certain types of convictions, they still must prove that the policy is necessary to serve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” They should look at the type of crime, the severity, and the recency of the offense. If they determine that other tenants might be at risk based on these factors, they can deny your application.

If you believe your rights were violated, you can file a complaint with HUD.

While this article is in no way a substitute for legal advice (please contact a landlord-tenant attorney in your city if you need one), hopefully it gives you a better understanding of background checks, how they are used, and what your rights are as a renter. A background check is just a small portion of the application process, but it’s an important step toward getting your dream apartment.