Basically, anyone can see another person's criminal background history, with a few exceptions. Cases involving juveniles are not released to the public. Also, court clerks regularly redact (mark out) people's personal information in court records, such as addresses, Social Security Numbers (SSNs), and victims' names in sexual assault cases. All other information in criminal court records -- such as charges, convictions, dispositions -- are available to the public, so it's available to landlords, as well.
County Criminal Records
The most basic, and reliable, criminal records check is in any counties where the potential tenant lived, worked or attended school. County criminal records include felonies and often misdemeanors and infractions. A background check company will search the tenant's name in applicable county courthouses, verifying the name with other identifiers, such as the person's date of birth and SSN. The background check report includes dates of case files, charges and convictions, and sentencing details.
State Criminal Records
It's a common misunderstanding that state criminal records are more comprehensive than country criminal records. Actually, the reverse is true. State regulations vary as to which counties forward their criminal records and when. Also, states have varying timetables for updating their databases. Which means criminal records at the state level are often incomplete or inaccurate. However, state criminal records sometimes contain additional information, such as incarceration dates from departments of correction, which can be added to tenant background reports.
Federal Criminal Records
Federal courts maintain criminal records for crimes committed in federal jurisdictions. These criminal records do not appear in county or state records. Federal crimes include those that violated federal law, crossed state borders, or were committed on federal premises. Examples of federal crimes are mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, immigration law offenses and postal offenses. Information from federal criminal records include charges, convictions, dispositions, as well as parole or release from prison data.
Sex Offender Registries
A criminal records search only finds sex crimes if the researcher knows the county in which an offense occurred. Otherwise, a researcher might run a tenant's name in a state-registered sex offender database. The U.S. Department of Justice also maintains a registered sex offender database, the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, that compiles information from all 50 states and participating tribes. Information such as name, state and county would go into a background report.