13 Best Tenant Screening Services for Landlords in 2020
July 20, 2020
Approving a lease application and entering into a rental agreement with a new tenant may seem like a run-of-the-mill task for a landlord or property manager, but careful consideration is required every time.
It can be difficult to tell whether an applicant will be an ideal candidate, and that’s why background and credit screening services are such an important tool for landlords.
Landlords want to gain a full understanding of the applicant they’re approving, so most will create applications to have them list general information about themselves and their financial standings, and then enlist screening services to pull reports to verify that information and dig a little bit deeper.
13 Best Tenant Screening Services for Background Checks in 2020
- TransUnion SmartMove
- MyRental.com by CoreLogic
- Tenant Alert
- Experian Connect
- ScreeningWorks by Yardi
- US Search
Before choosing a tenant screening service, it will be important for a landlord to create a tenant screening criteria document to outline specific screening requirements for applicants to be approved for residence.
This makes the screening process more straightforward because you know exactly which features you need in a tenant screening service. In the long run, it will also assist in preventing discrimination and will provide concrete reasoning to point to when taking adverse action.
Download our free tenant screening criteria sample form for landlords & property managers
Once you’ve determined the qualifications you will be requiring for approval, it’s time to choose a resident screening service that will meet your needs and your budget.
We’ve looked at the best tenant screening services & background check sites, pulled together pricing and user-review ratings, and ranked the 13 best tenant screening services for landlords & multifamily property managers in 2020.
- Review Rating: 9.3 out of 10
- Cost: $18.95 – $38, Enterprise option available on a custom-quote basis
Overview: RentPrep’s reports are put together manually by FCRA certified agents, meaning their reports take a bit longer to come back than others, but also giving this tenant screening service a human touch. This service is also associated with the National Apartment Association, National Association of Professional Background Screeners, and TransUnion Credit Agency, showing that it is reputable within the screening and real estate industries.
RentPrep offers multiple levels of service, with only the SmartMove Credit Report requiring tenant involvement. The RentPrep Background Check includes SSN verification, eviction report, judgments and liens, bankruptcies, and address history. They charge extra for a national criminal and sex offender report. Their enterprise package for companies screening over 50 properties comes with a customizable plan and a dedicated account rep.
- Review Rating: 9.0 out of 10
- Cost: Paid by applicants – $24.99 for one report or $39.99 for a credit report + background check.
Overview: Cozy is a free property management software with tenant screenings that are managed and paid by applicants. These reports are instant, and typically emailed to landlords and applicants the same day they are run.
Cozy’s credit reports are run through Experian and note the applicants’ recent activity as well as total debt. Their background checks include information from national and county records for criminal and sex offender history as well as evictions. Their background check reports also include personal information, social security number verification, civil search, and a homeland security search.
3. TransUnion SmartMove
- Review Rating: 8.8 out of 10
- Cost: $25 – $40
Overview: TransUnion SmartMove is a tenant-involved screening service that offers credit and background screening services. Residents are able to keep private information like their social security number private from landlords by providing it directly to TransUnion.
Its ResidentScore is compiled through an analysis of the credit report, incorporating information like past evictions, late rent payments, and breaking leases. As an account holder you can choose whether or not to have applicants pay for their own screenings.
- Review Rating: 8.3 out of 10
- Cost: $10-20 per report, can be paid either by the applicant or landlord
Overview: LeaseRunner’s reports are a-la-carte and offer screening directly from an apartment listing ad or website. They offer tenant background checks eviction checks including judgement amount, financial profiles, and credit reports. Screenings are started when applicants authorize the release of their information from their email. No account is required either, so this service may be most ideal for landlords with fewer properties looking for one or two more simple reports.
5. MyRental.com by CoreLogic
- Review Rating: 8.0 out of 10
- Cost: A la carte or $24.99 to $34.99 for full reports
Overview: This screening service is tenant-involved and backed by CoreLogic, a leader in real estate data. MyRental provides landlords with FCRA compliant denial letters to assist in the prevention of discriminations. Its reports include SSN verification, employment history, previous address history, eviction history, and multi-state criminal and sex offender checks.
6. Tenant Alert
- Review Rating: 7.9 out of 10
- Cost: $24.95 – $49.95
Overview: This screening service offers credit and criminal reporting in addition to live customer support, free online rental applications, international business reports, employment verification, and landlord verification. Tenant Alert’s “Lease Guarantee” service provides landlords coverage for legal fees, rental losses, and damages up to $10,000 for an annual fee of $299 after a Plus, Pro, or Premier package is purchased.
7. Experian Connect
- Review Rating: 7.7 out of 10
- Cost: $14.95 charged to applicant
Overview: Experian Connect’s screening service is tenant-involved and offers mostly credit-related features. Their background check also includes public record filings such as evictions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and tax liens.
8. ScreeningWorks by Yardi
- Review Rating: 7.6 out of 10
- Cost: $17.50 – $29.95 monthly, depending on state
Overview: Screeningworks by Yardi is largely an enterprise system for use by larger management firms which can work as an add-on feature to Yardi Voyager. Their service includes a credit screening backed up by a “Public Records Team” which can come in handy when data might come back incomplete because they manually cross-check records. Screeningworks features include rental payment histories, employment verification, document verification, and information protection, but the service does not account for judgements and leans.
- Review Rating: 7.2 out of 10
- Cost: $45 per month, basic tenant screening costs $15
Overview: Buildium is a RealPage company offering property management software which includes credit, criminal, and eviction data. Like ScreeningWorks, this may be a more appropriate solution for landlords overseeing a large number of communities. This web-based service includes features like rental ad listing, maintenance management, contact management and bill-pay as well.
- Review Rating: 7.0 out of 10
- Cost: $19.95 – $34.95
Overview: This screening service offers different tenant screening packages which include identity verification, background checks, credit checks, name and address history, and rent check advisor. Additional checks can be purchased a la carte by calling or emailing e-renter directly.
- Review Rating: 6.8 out of 10
- Cost: $0 – $55
Overview: Avail allows landlords to view applicants’ credit reports, criminal background checks and eviction history. Their screenings are tenant-involved, and include insights and red-flags to help landlords decipher all the screening information. A rental profile including job history, rental history, and income verification is free to the applicant, and adding in credit and criminal searches will cost them additional fees.
- Review Rating: 6.1 out of 10
- Cost: $29.95 per month
Overview: Intelius is a background check website that allows users to view personal information, address history, criminal records, and other personal information like marriage history, past lawsuits, and liens.Their monthly paid package called Intelius Premier Plus comes with unlimited searches. Although this service isn’t directly developed for tenant screening purposes and doesn’t include much information about financial status, this may be a good fit for certain landlords.
13. US Search
- Review Rating: 6.0 out of 10
- Cost: Free
Overview: Another background-focused “people search”, US Search allows users to perform reverse phone lookups, social network searches, property records, criminal records, and criminal checks.
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Landlords use tenant screening services to help approve or reject applications. Those tenant screening & background check sites use a variety of metrics & historical data to verify answers and alert property managers of potential red flags. Here are the most common things landlords are screening for with tenant background check services.
1. Social Security Number Verification
At the very base level, verifying an applicant’s SSN lets you know that an applicant is who they say they are. If a prospective resident provides an invalid or incorrect social security number, they may be trying to hide something about themselves or use somebody else’s information.
2. Tenant Involvement
Certain tenant screening services require “Tenant Involvement.” This type of screening requires an applicant to provide an email address. The service would then send the applicant an email prompting them to verify their identity and personal information in addition to submitting payment for the screening.
Tenant-involved screenings can pose a problem for demo groups like seniors who do not otherwise use the internet, and some applicants simply won’t follow through with the application after seeing the extra work to do on their end.
Some screening services don’t require tenant involvement, but they still require the consent of the applicant in writing to perform the check. This is typically worked into the application.
3. Eviction Data
The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows eviction records to be kept and pulled for resident screening for up to 7 years. Checking an applicant’s eviction history can be important because residents with prior evictions are more likely to be evicted again.
But always remember, most searches get this info from the National Eviction Database, which is not considered comprehensive, and also keep in mind that there are two sides to every story.
4. FICO Credit Score
A simple check of an applicant’s Credit Score can give you a big picture idea of an applicant’s financial situation based on details like payment history, total amounts owed, and length of credit history. This information all helps tell a landlord how well they can expect an applicant to keep up with rent payments. Landlords must use the same credit score requirements for all applicants at a single rental property.
5. Address History
Previous address tenant history is a report showing all addresses associated with a given applicant’s Social Security number. In verifying previous addresses directly with previous landlords, you can learn about late rent payments adherence to the lease, damage to previous residents, and other general complaints. If an applicant has a solid rental history, this could be weighed against a negative finding like a poor credit score.
A past bankruptcy lets landlords know that an applicant was unable to pay off previous debts and keep up with financial obligations at some point in the past. This could be due to a number of unfortunate circumstances, but may mean that they will have trouble in the future. Previous bankruptcies should be considered along with other screening categories to get the full picture.
Some companies use a “look-back” period for this as well, stipulating that an applicant cannot have filed bankruptcy in a certain amount of years in order to be approved.
7. Debt & Income Data
Debt and income verification features may include employment verification in addition to debts owed for utilities and other general and delinquent debt. Spotty employment history can indicate tendencies to job-hop or likeliness of future gaps in employment, affecting their ability to pay rent.
8. Judgments & Liens
Some resident background check services provide information about “judgments and liens”. A civil judgment on an applicant’s record means a past landlord has filed an action against them for not paying rent, and a tax lien means they have been penalized for not paying their taxes. This information is no longer included in standard credit reports but remains a feature for certain screening services.
9. Sex Offender List & US Criminal Data
Criminal screening is another important feature that requires landlords to follow strict guidelines to prevent discrimination. It is common to screen applications based on specific types of offenses, number of offenses. Some use a “look-back period” to specify how recently an applicant can have been convicted.
Landlords may only deny applicants due to criminal history if that history would put other residents in danger or hinder their ability to pay rent. A number of states also have laws that prohibit landlords from denying an applicant solely based on their criminal history – check your local laws!
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Tenant screening services give landlords and property managers the data to make informed decisions on rental appications – but it’s still up to the landlord to make the right choice. Here are five tips to help property managers filter though the mess and find quality residents.
1. Include a Debt-to-Income Ratio in Your Screening Criteria
Coming up with a debt-to-income ratio will help you determine whether a resident will be able to pay their rent. It is common for a property to require a 3-to-1 income to rent ratio as well – so their rent could be no more than 33% of their income.
2. Contact Previous Landlord(s)
An applicant’s current landlord may be less likely to provide negative information about them if they’re hoping for you to take a troublesome tenant off their hands. For a more accurate picture, it’s best to check back to at least one previous landlord to get a clearer picture.
3. Look Closely at Debt Type
When reviewing an applicant’s existing debt, it can be helpful to focus more on context than amount. An applicant who is left with debt due to student loans or a mortgage has invested in their future, and may not necessarily indicate any potential trouble paying rent in the future.
4. Know Your Fair Housing Laws
Being sued for discrimination can be much more costly than a terrible tenant. It is extremely important that any landlord be well-versed in fair housing regulations at state and national levels.If your business is participating in any type of affordable housing program, it is additionally important to adhere to that program’s requirements related to screening.
For instance, landlords receiving housing subsidy from HUD programs for five or more units are required to file an Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan in addition to a formal Tenant Selection Plan outlining specific criteria required for approval.
5. Let Technology Help
Gathering all the information you will need to determine if an applicant is eligible can take a lot of work. Use a quality tenant screening service to help make this process as accurate and streamlined as possible.
Having a tenant selection & screening criteria form allows landlords to:
- Establish a set of rules & guidelines for screening tenant applications that is fair, equal, and transparent to all applicants and is given to prospective tenants before they’re screened
- Protect themselves in the event of a discrimination claim from a denied renter application.
- Take themselves out of the equation, as landlords can direct blame on their screening criteria guidelines in the event of a denied application.
Creating the criteria for screening prospective tenants is no fun – and hopefully you’ll not have to rely on it too often.
To help save you time creating your own set of criteria for tenant screening, we’ve put together a free tenant screening criteria sample form for landlords and multifamily property managers.
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