Criminal Background Checks: 6 Tips for Landlords
Failure to run a criminal check can increase landlord liability, especially if the new tenant hurts others, and increases the chances that an applicant will become a problem tenant.
On the other hand, having a strict crime policy can attract good tenants who place safety at the top of their apartment-hunting wishlist.
To get the most out of your criminal background checks, it’s important to keep these tips in mind:
1. Criminal reports, unlike credit reports, usually are not indexed using specific identifying information like the applicant’s Social Security number. That means you will need to rely on other information to link possible criminal reports to your applicant. Your rental application should include the date of birth, the party’s full legal name and any alias names, as well as previous addresses.
2. Criminal reports are available on both state and national levels. The advantage of the national reports is catching applicants who may be providing incomplete information on the rental application regarding their whereabouts.
3. Tenant screening reports are best when used together. For instance, using the Previous Address Tenant History, you may be able to identify addresses — and possible criminal convictions — in places the tenant has failed to reveal.
4. Criminal reports can be supplemented by leasing policies that discourage those with criminal tendencies from applying. For instance, participating in a Crime Free Multi-Housing program and advertising that policy to applicants can reduce the risk of attracting the wrong ones.
5. Be aware that, in some areas of the country, criminal checks are regulated. Oregon recently passed new restrictions on what landlords can do with the information from criminal background checks. Nonprofit agencies that assist ex-cons with re-entry into communities have lobbied for more tenant-friendly laws across the country. Be sure to stay on top of your local rental laws.
6. Make sure you require the same level of screening reports from all applicants. If you scrutinize the ones you suspect are most likely to have a criminal background, but let others slide altogether, it will look like discrimination.
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