How to Run a Background Check on a Tenant in California

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Before you rent, do some detective work and run a background check.
Before you rent, do some detective work and run a background check. (Image: Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Checking the background of a prospective renter will not ensure you of the ideal tenant. Nevertheless, a careful screening will minimize your risk by filtering out bad prospects. Conducting a background check is a landlord's right and responsibility, one that is generally considered common practice. After all, even the most impressive applicants can turn out to be troublesome tenants. A background check helps to alert you about problems before you experience them yourself.

Get informed about the law before checking the background of rental applicants. Just as every other state, California has laws regulating background checks. There are also state and federal laws governing fair housing that prohibit discrimination against prospective renters. Consult the Regional Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission of Sacramento for information on federal and state housing laws.

Ask all prospective tenants to fill out a written rental application. Forms can be downloaded for free from landlord-tenant websites such as RentLaw. Be sure to obtain the social security number of the applicant, which you will need to do a background check.

Check the credit reports of applicants. It is easy to run an online credit check for a nominal fee. You can charge an application fee to cover the cost of a credit check. Order credit reports on applicants from the major credit reporting bureaus such as Equifax or Trans Union to screen credit history and past evictions or criminal convictions.

Verify employment, income, bank accounts and references of applicants. Call the human resources or personnel department of the company where your prospective tenant works. It is better to call the company’s main number and ask for human resources rather than to call a number provided on the application. Also, call the tenant's bank to verify accounts. Confirm any references given, especially former landlords.

Simplify the process by signing up with a tenant screening service such as Clear Screening or E-Renter. These companies will assist you with a basic background check. You can also obtain a more in-depth report listing evictions, bankruptcies, liens, judgments and criminal records.

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