Our Methodology for Identifying the Best Tenant Screening Services
We’re living in a world in which the need for security permeates every aspect of our life. Whether it’s parental control software, insurance, virtual phone numbers, or home security systems, the market caters to each type of need. Tenant screening companies are one of them and they offer a bewildering array of reports and options. Evaluating them requires an objective apples-to-apples comparison.
We started our evaluations by identifying the information and services landlords need.
Criminal Background Check
First and foremost, you’ve got to know how trustworthy applicants are. Many landlords prefer to know whether prospective tenants have criminal records and how severe their crimes were. It’s one thing to have a couple unpaid parking tickets. It’s a whole lot worse if you discover an applicant has been involved in a violent crime.
In the past, the criminal portion of a tenant background check could take weeks as landlords consulted criminal records at the city, county, state, and national level. The ordeal could require expensive, time-consuming, in-person visits to review public records in government offices.
That drastically changed once services that offer tenant screening became widely available. All that hassle and running around has been replaced by easy-to-use websites that will run comprehensive criminal background checks for you.
Although documenting the prospective tenant’s criminal record is now the norm, tenant screening services don’t always deliver the same information. Some background check services consult government databases at all levels, while others report only state or nationwide criminal records.
Tenant screening reports are subject to regulation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, which specifies that certain consumer data can be reported only by certified reporting agencies. The best agencies are FCRA-compliant.
Credit and Employment
Once you’re sure your prospective tenants have steered clear of legal troubles, you’ll want to know whether they are likely to make rent payments. You’ll want to verify their employment and earnings. Employment history can tell you if they’re likely to remain employed. And a credit history is helpful too. If the applicant has a terrible credit score, that could indicate that they’ll have trouble paying rent.
The top tenant screening services provide a credit score and an overview of the applicant’s employment history. We check to see how detailed these tenant reports are and whether the service requires an extra charge. In too many cases, it’s part of a premium package.
Residence and Eviction History
The standard background check includes a residence and eviction history that tells you whether your applicant has been a good tenant in the past. A history of changing addresses frequently is a red flag. A history of legal evictions is 10 red flags. In the bad old days, you counted on applicants to give you the names and phone numbers of former landlords. Of course they excluded information about tenancies that ended on bad terms.
The rental background check results in a report detailing the applicant’s history of late rent payments, how long each residency lasted, and whether or not the tenant has received eviction notices from former landlords. Naturally, the more detail you get, the better.
Tenant background checks don’t look expensive, but if you have lots of applications for the same property, they add up fast. That’s why we consider price a key criterion. Some sell screening services a la carte, while others offer screening as part of a larger property management package.
From free tenant screening to the most expensive premium plans, we evaluate each plan and its features. The goal is to find the best value, a balance between features and affordability. We also check for free trials and discounts on rental screening.
Additional Features and Efficiency
Those checks give us a pretty clear idea of which companies offer the best value in tenant screening – but we don’t stop there. The next piece of the puzzle: an assessment of each service’s efficiency and thoroughness.
For example, this is where we look at the depth and flexibility of reporting options. And we evaluate how long it takes for tenant screening search results to arrive. It doesn’t matter how good the screening service’s data is if it doesn’t arrive until after your applicant has already moved into someone else’s property.
Some of these services go above and beyond the usual, giving landlords much more than a simple report or two. You may get customizable letters to send to prospective tenants. You may get peace-of-mind through verification of the applicant’s Social Security number. Unusual and unique features help distinguish services from one another, and in our reviews we are careful to point them out.
Finally, the best tenant screening services for landlords can’t really be the best unless it provides great customer support. Not everyone knows how the screening process works, so you might need to contact the customer-service agents with questions. You might have billing problems or questions about a report. Maybe you’re having trouble connecting to the service’s website and you need information from the technical team.
Our evaluation takes into account the availability of customer support agents, the depth of their knowledge, and their attitude. If the service has other useful tools, like an informative FAQ page, we note that too.
Our Picks: The Best Tenant Screening Services
What do landlords use for background checks?
Most landlords go through rental history reports to discover how good a tenant the applicant has been in the past. Since we live in the internet age, landlords can use online services that pull information from credit bureaus and provide detailed reports on the prospective tenant’s likelihood of taking care of property and keeping up with rent payments.
How do I get a tenant screening report?
Just visit the screening company’s website and type some information about the tenant. You’ll be asked to provide the name and email address, and perhaps a phone number. The company will process the request, pull data from the credit bureau and federal databases, and provide a detailed report. With that document, you should be able to determine whether to extend a lease to your prospective tenant or not.
What does tenant screening mean?
Tenant screening is the process property owners and landlords use to evaluate prospective tenants. It’s a background check for renters, a compilation of different kinds of information that helps the landlord predict whether the applicant is trustworthy and financially able to pay rent. There is no uniform screening process; different landlords look for different information when evaluating potential tenants.
Can I run a tenant screening on myself?
Sure. If you’re looking to rent property, you can visit a tenant screening service, request an evaluation of yourself as a prospective renter, and get reports that you can share with landlords when you apply to rent a property. This saves the landlord both time and money. The best tenant screening services even generate private links for you to share with landlords, thus keeping your information secure online.