If you are a property owner looking to fill a vacancy, you’ll need a sophisticated way to vet potential tenants. Good tenants who are serious about their own financial stakes are likely to protect your property and pay you on time. However, while tenant screening services are beneficial, property owners will want to ensure they use high-quality sites that deliver robust results. Using subpar technology could deny a good tenant a place to live based on incorrect or outdated information. Below is a list of the best tenant screening services available for property owners.
- BEST OVERALL: First Advantage
- RUNNER-UP: SmartMove
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: E-Renter
- BEST FOR SINGLE REPORTS: LeaseRunner
What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Tenant Screening Services
Landlords may be eager to rent their properties out because an empty unit doesn’t bring income. However, it’s a good idea to make sure the space is legal to rent out and perform a background check for renters, even when they seem like they could be a perfect choice. The smiling, friendly prospect could have a background littered with evictions, bad credit, or criminal activity. Likewise, the applicant that comes off as awkward or shy could have a stellar financial background and no criminal history.
When deciding to rent a property out, allowing the facts to speak for the applicant is more valuable than letting emotions or trivial matters guide the vetting process. While a landlord may empathize with a candidate, an applicant’s ability to pay and take good care of the property should be the main focus. Here are some other factors to remember when choosing the best tenant screening service.
The service price is a critical factor, but it shouldn’t be the only factor determining the decision. The adage “You get what you pay for” could apply in this instance if a property owner chooses a tenant screening agency that lowballs the price. Remember that a landlord wants an agency that will do relevant and accurate research using up-to-date databases.
Some tenant screening agencies may charge monthly fees, while others may only charge per report. Some services also allow applicants to pay directly for the report. This could be a prudent arrangement because a potential tenant willing to absorb this cost indicates a serious candidate.
According to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, discrimination based on “race or color, religion, national origin, familial status, or age” is prohibited. Therefore, landlords have to give every candidate a fair chance of getting decent housing access. However, some factors aren’t related to a person’s race or status, which landlords can use to judge whether applicants are good tenants.
Landlords can check an applicant’s criminal record, credit, proof of income, eviction history, and employment history. They can even ask previous landlords to act as references. Property managers can also check if applicants are sex offenders, but keep in mind that property owners in California cannot deny a sex offender’s right to rent based on their past.
In some states, property owners are prohibited from screening certain aspects of an applicant’s background. It pays for property owners to be well versed in local laws so they don’t request information from a tenant that they shouldn’t. However, tenant screening services will typically have these filters built in so only legal information is returned.
Rental and Eviction History
An applicant’s rental and eviction history can speak volumes. But while this information may be helpful, it is not a good idea to become too reliant on this history. For instance, there may be times when you could have a potentially suitable tenant, but they don’t have a rental history. They could be a recent graduate from college who has only lived with parents, relatives, or roommates. In cases like these, property owners can ask for references from former roommates who can vouch for the applicant.
Credit Check and Proof of Income
Since the ability to pay is a critical factor when renting, a property owner will want to see a credit check and proof of income. Tenant screening services will usually include this information, but property owners can also request recent pay stubs as a safety measure. If an applicant is self-employed, they can provide tax returns and business licenses.
Some tenant reviews only deliver tenant credit checks, while others deliver credit reports. A credit check only gives an applicant’s credit score. A credit report provides history on lines of credit and payment history. Both are useful tools, but a credit report returns more thorough information. A credit score, however, is easier to interpret.
Having all this information is great for a landlord, but getting this information in a timely fashion can be paramount if a landlord needs to fill a vacancy quickly. Each tenant screening agency has different times to produce a tenant background search. Many can return the information within minutes, but a quick check on the service’s FAQ will verify the delivery time.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act was developed to ensure that information contained in consumer reporting agencies is fair and accurate. There is plenty of public record information readily available in many databases. But just because the information is available doesn’t mean anyone can view it.
For instance, a property owner has to alert applicants that they are running a check and let the applicants know the name of the company performing it. FCRA-compliant companies have safeguards in place to protect applicant information. Tenant screening services should be clear about their FCRA compliance status, and property owners should steer clear of any companies that are not.
Some tenant screening services offer additional tools that can streamline much of the paperwork and processes associated with renting. For landlords who don’t already use a rental listing site to organize the tenant management process, the additional tools that some of these screening services provide can help landlords from the application process until lease renewal. Some sites allow property owners to keep all forms in one place and allow applicants to e-sign leases and agreements.
Most users hope to never need to contact a representative, but it’s always a good idea to ensure a company has reliable customer service. From small-scale issues like technical glitches or payment processing, it can be helpful to have a human guide a property owner if necessary. More significant issues, like a potential tenant complaining about the results of an apartment background check or credit report, can also benefit from an attentive, engaged customer support staff.
Our Top Picks
Landlords looking for the top tenant screening services to help with their rental properties can start their research here.
Why It Made the Cut: First Advantage provides fast, precise information from comprehensive databases, and the information goes through an in-depth human review for accuracy.
First Advantage performs over 71 million international background screenings that help landlords make decisions about applicants. Its screening parameters include credit reports; criminal convictions; and eviction, utilities, and debt histories. Utility and debt history are unique to First Advantage and give landlords a fuller picture of an applicant’s ability to make timely payments. These reports are available within minutes, and the reports undergo a thorough human audit to ensure they’re comprehensive, complete, and accurate. Pricing isn’t listed on the site, and interested property owners will need to call for a quote.
First Advantage delivers credit reports, and property owners can choose any or all three of the major credit bureaus to run the report. First Advantage’s unique offerings include Insight Advantage to guide better decision-making, Forms Manager to manage information, and EasyMove to provide high-quality applicant leads. Customers who need assistance can reach out to someone using phone, email, or live chat.
- Pricing: Call for pricing
- Screening parameters: Credit report, criminal history, eviction history, utility and debt history
- Report delivery: Within minutes
- Additional tools: Insight Advantage, Forms Manager, EasyMove
- Customer support: Phone, email, live chat
- Utility default and debt history included
- Credit reports produced through any or all three of the major credit bureaus
- In-depth human review process to minimize errors
- Reports available within minutes
- Potential customers must call for pricing
Why It Made the Cut: SmartMove is affiliated with TransUnion, and its innovative income insights let landlords know when they need to request additional information from applicants.
Started in 2008, SmartMove has grown to be one of the most trusted screening services for over 3.7 million landlords. SmartMove’s major benefit is that credit reports are run through TransUnion. An applicant’s sensitive information doesn’t have to go through a third-party site or a landlord, meaning a greater level of protection and security for applicants. The website’s layout is straightforward. It has several packages to choose from, and each package is laid out in a side-by-side comparison so landlords can see what’s included in each. The company also gives the landlord the option to pay for the screening or have the tenant pay for it.
Within a few minutes, a landlord can receive info on a potential tenant, including a credit report from TransUnion, a criminal history, an eviction history, and an Income Insights report. However, property owners can’t receive criminal records on applicants in six states. Income Insights lets a property owner know when they should ask for additional income verification from an applicant. And one of its other tools includes Resident Score, which predicts evictions 15 percent better than a credit score alone.
- Pricing: $25 to $40 per report
- Screening parameters: Credit report, criminal history, eviction history
- Report delivery: Within minutes
- Additional tools: Income Insights report
- Customer support: Phone
- Credit reports produced through TransUnion
- Income Insights report identifies tenants who may need additional verification
- Reports available within minutes
- Criminal records unavailable in Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Jersey.
Why It Made the Cut: E-Renter offers reasonable pricing and an additional layer of protection by checking tenants through the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Established in 2003, E-Renter provides landlords with 24/7 access to information on potential tenants. It provides information such as FICO scores, bankruptcies, judgments, and collection history. Landlords can also access more detailed information about eviction history, criminal history, and liens. However, E-Renter only provides a full credit report for commercial accounts, meaning independent landlords can’t access this information. But one of its unique screening parameters is running applicants’ information through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which checks for criminal activity such as terrorism or drug trafficking. A landlord can have information about an applicant back within an hour using one of the company’s three screening packages.
E-Renter offers a relatively low price for its reports, especially the basic bundle, and it also has a comprehensive library of resources for property owners. E-Renter also works to expedite the rental process with the Rent Check Advisor, which quickly recommends whether you should accept checks from applicants or tenants. E-Renter’s customer service is available six days a week, Monday through Saturday, by phone or email.
- Pricing: $21.95 to $36.95 per report
- Screening parameters: Identity verification, credit check, criminal history, address history, name history
- Report delivery: Within 1 hour
- Additional tools: Rent Check Advisor
- Customer support: Phone, email
- Relatively low price for entry-level bundle
- Background checks go through the Office of Foreign Assets Control
- Robust library of property owner resources, sample reports, and free forms
- Only commercial customers can access credit reports
Why It Made the Cut: LeaseRunner is a one-stop shop for busy landlords, and the company allows customers to buy individual reports instead of bundling multiple reports.
Started in 2011 in Denver, Colorado, LeaseRunner now operates in all 50 states. Its tenant screening parameters include a credit report, criminal history, financial review, and eviction history. Background checks go through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which checks for an extra level of criminal activity in terrorism or drug trafficking. What sets LeaseRunner apart is that customers can purchase all of these reports individually, which can lower the overall cost if a landlord doesn’t need access to all the information traditionally provided by tenant screening. However, if a landlord does want to purchase all the reports available, LeaseRunner may not be the most cost-effective option. LeaseRunner’s website can also be difficult to navigate.
LeaseRunner offers additional tools like rent collection and renters insurance, and applicants can sign paperwork electronically via the platform. Landlords can also set up an ad online to increase interest in their rental property.
- Pricing: $10 to $21 per report
- Screening parameters: Credit report, criminal history, financial review, eviction history
- Report delivery: Within minutes
- Additional tools: Rent collection, renters insurance
- Customer support: Phone, email
- Property owners can choose to purchase reports à la carte
- Site offers digital lease signing and online rent payments
- Background checks go through the Office of Foreign Assets Control
- Prices can be relatively high if property owner opts for all report options
- Website is somewhat user-unfriendly
We decided that First Advantage was the top choice because of its in-depth screening process. It uses proprietary databases and a unique human review and adjudication system to return fewer false positives. Our runner-up is SmartMove because it’s affiliated with TransUnion, which is a more secure way for landlords to run credit checks without applicants having to give their personal information directly. SmartMove also has an Income Insights tool, which can determine if landlords should acquire extra verification or proof of income from applicants.
How We Chose the Best Tenant Screening Services
We reviewed dozens of tenant screening services and ensured that these services were FCRA compliant. One of the most important considerations we made when choosing the best tenant screening services was the ease of use. Property owners are busy and, in most cases, need to fill vacancies quickly. Therefore, all our top picks can produce essential information in less than an hour—and in mere minutes, in many cases. These companies return detailed results, and they are all reasonably priced. These services also offer additional tools to help streamline the rental process.
Before You Use One of the Best Tenant Screening Services
Using one of the best tenant screening services for a rental background check is an excellent way for a property owner to choose quality tenants. However, it isn’t a foolproof method. Sometimes a quick turnaround for tenant screening may produce erroneous or insufficient information. Another issue with tenant screening services is that some may allow the tenant to be involved in the process. This may work for or against a property owner. On the one hand, involved tenants may quickly complete the process if they are serious. However, those who fail to complete the screening process quickly may prevent an owner from deciding on a candidate in a timely fashion.
When choosing a tenant screening service, one more critical factor is knowing what the screening package includes. For instance, a property owner may choose a basic package that may not include eviction history. So, when making a selection, a landlord should choose the package that delivers all the information they need, not just the most cost-effective one.
Cost of Using One of the Best Tenant Screening Services
Tenant screening services charge per report. The price can be as low as $10 or as high as $40. The reason for the price variation comes down to the information that is contained within the report. The more expensive the tenant report, typically the more comprehensive the results. Some services allow a landlord to charge the applicant directly through the platform, rather than the landlord paying for the report or asking the applicant for a separate payment.
Free screening reports may have erroneous information on them or could even provide a property owner with information they aren’t authorized to view, which violates FCRA regulations.
The Advantages of Using One of the Best Tenant Screening Services
Hands-on landlords can become quite busy dealing with tenants, property maintenance, and filling vacancies. It may be tempting to bypass the tenant screening process because of the bevy of other tasks. However, using tenant screening services will save time in the long run by making it easier to choose qualified, responsible tenants. Other advantages include:
- Using the applicant’s rental and eviction history to make an educated assessment of their future rental habits.
- Transferring the cost of a background check for tenants to the applicant.
- Receiving results within minutes to expedite the rental process.
Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions property owners may have about tenant screening services.
Q. How do I screen my potential tenants?
The easiest way to screen potential tenants is to use an online tenant screening service.
Q. What questions should I ask when interviewing potential renters?
There is no limit to how many questions you should ask a potential renter. Some important preliminary questions include: Where do you currently rent? When would you like to move in? What is your income from all sources?
Q. How much does tenant screening cost?
Tenant screening costs range from $10 to about $40 for a report. Typically, the lower the price, the less information a property owner will receive.
Q. How do I do a credit check on a potential renter?
First, you will have to get a renter’s written consent to do such a check. Most tenant screening agencies provide a credit check or report. Or you can get them directly from the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Q. How long does an eviction stay on a tenant screening report?
An eviction will stay on a tenant screening report for up to 7 years.
Q. What background checks do most landlords use?
Landlords will run a background check that typically consists of criminal history, a credit report or credit check, proof of income, eviction history, and employment history. These background checks can come from a variety of tenant screening services.
Q. Can a private landlord do a credit check?
Yes. A private landlord can do a credit check on a potential tenant using a potential tenant’s name, address, and Social Security number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). However, the landlord must acquire written authorization to do so. This is usually contained in the rental application.
Q. Is it possible to rent without proof of income?
Although it is not a good idea to rent to a tenant without proof of income, you can do it. You may have to check other sources such as their credit score and financial accounts, such as savings, to see if they have any money. You may also have to charge more for a security deposit to protect yourself. If a person is self-employed, they may not have pay stubs. Therefore, you will have to verify their proof of income through tax forms, business licenses, and other nontraditional methods.