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What to Look for in a Tenant Background Check

If you’re a landlord, then having peace of mind about the people who are renting your property has to be one of your biggest concerns. Problem tenants can lose you money, ruin your property, and get you in trouble with local authorities, neighbors, or even other tenants. A tenant background check is crucial, but what should you be looking for when you get one?

Criminal history

This is the big one, so it comes first. Credit checks are important, but the most important thing in your mind should be keeping your family, property, and reputation safe. To be safe, here are some important things to look for:

Violent crime

A person with a history of violent criminal behavior could pose a threat to your other tenants, to your family if your rental property is adjacent to your home, or to the community where your property is located. There isn’t much more to say: violent crime almost always means you say no.

Drug charges

Watch out for these, because the worst-case scenario is that your tenant turns your property into a base for dealing or a lab for making illicit drugs. Nothing will sink your property value faster, and the neighbors will be pretty angry if their property values also tank and addicts start hanging out in the area.

At the same time, remember that a minor drug charge, like possession of small amounts of marijuana, probably doesn’t indicate a serious issue. If the person is otherwise a good bet, then this needn’t be a deal-breaker by itself.

Property damage

Has a potential tenant damaged someone else’s property before? Look carefully at the details. If there’s just one, old charge and good behavior since, that could just be a one-off incident.

In that case, charge a heftier security deposit and go for it if the candidate is otherwise clean. If there’s a pattern of damage and abuse to property, this is good reason to pass.


Has a potential tenant been involved in some lawsuits? Again, this could be nothing, but it could also be something. A lot of people have reason to hire a good personal injury attorney, so that’s not normally an issue. If they’ve sued every landlord they’ve ever had, or if the tenant has been named in a string of squatter lawsuits or to recover unpaid utilities or rent, then you have good reason to pass.

Credit check

Next on your list of background check items should be a thorough credit check. You’re looking for more than just a simple number here. You want to assess how financially stable your tenant is. If a candidate is regularly falling behind on car loan or credit card payments, you can be pretty sure they will have trouble coming up with regular rent.

On the other hand, poor credit scores can sometimes be caused by issues that have nothing to do with financial stability. Perhaps a tenant just finished paying off a credit card and closed it. This will ding their credit but is actually evidence of a financially responsible person. Look and think carefully as you judge the credit check.

Reference check

Part of your background check should include quality references from every tenant. This should include the name and number of any previous landlords, as well as someone who knows them well on a personal and on a professional level.

Check out all of these. Previous landlords will tell you how the person behaved as a tenant. Bosses or co-workers can help you judge their financial situation and personal stability. Talking to a friend or family member can tell you something about who the tenant regularly spends time with.

A background check is essential, and because it’s possible to even get a tenant background check free these days, there’s just no reason to skip it. Once you have it, check it carefully, use your common sense, and take the time to find a responsible, reliable tenant.

About Bonita Gregg

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