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The Importance of Tenant Screening & Background Checks in the Tenant Application Process

The Importance of Tenant Screening & Background Checks in the Tenant Application Process

Throughout California, rumblings and complaints have been turning into legislation that makes it more difficult for landlords to do their jobs. Oakland and Berkeley banned the use of criminal background checks a couple of years back, and recently the California Assembly began debate on a measure to keep you from asking about criminal records on a housing application.

This news might have you a little concerned about your tenant background check and screening process. Should you still be doing them? Do you need to change what you’re doing?

The answer is a resounding yes! Let’s take a look at the why and how of conducting a screening and background check for tenants.

Why You Run Checks

Any landlord wants to get the best tenants possible in their rentals, which means responsible people who can and do pay on time and are unlikely to do damage to the property. You want someone who doesn’t make your life difficult and is unlikely to require eviction.

As much as you might like to rely on your gut, it’s better to check all the facts. At a minimum, a background check allows you to verify the identity of the person applying to ensure they are who they say they are.

Types of Checks to Run

Your first step is during the marketing and application process for the property. You should have a consistent set of requirements like minimum credit score and whether you allow pets, all of which cut down the pool to people who can qualify as tenants.

When you run a background check for a tenant, you’re looking for red flags in their past rental history and making sure they meet the requirements you set out in the screening. Run their credit score, confirm their employment, and talk to their references at this point.

A tenant criminal background check is a separate type of report, which tells you if the person has a record and for what reason. While you’ll get a lot of information from a criminal check, note that the state regulations changed a few years ago to limit which pieces you could consider when choosing a tenant. For example, you can’t consider arrests that didn’t lead to a conviction or juvenile records.

How To Check a Background

Once you have a clear understanding of what to check and what you can consider, follow these steps to conduct your check.

  1. Get consent
  2. Gather the data you need to do the check
  3. Decide how to do it — yourself or through a service
  4. Decide who pays for the report — you or the applicant

Above all, make sure you’re consistent in what you ask for and what you check with every applicant so you don’t run afoul of the Fair Housing Act.

Need Help With Your Tenant Background Check?

Checking up on potential renters is a critical part of the tenant screening process, but it is getting more complex in California. Landlords need to be keeping up with changes to the law about what can and can’t be asked on the tenant application and how that information can be used to allow or deny housing. Having a solid screening system in place helps you be consistent while getting the information you need to decide if you have a good rental candidate.

Need help with the tenant background check or application? Contact us to find out more about our property management services in San Mateo County.

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