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What should I know about tenant screening when applying for rental housing?

You have rights as a renter when you’re being screened as a potential tenant. For example, if you’re denied housing, a landlord must give you certain information if a tenant screening or credit report was used in making that decision.

When you’re applying for rental housing, many landlords will use a tenant screening report. A tenant screening company will compile a report for the landlord, which may include your credit report. If you are denied housing based on this report, the landlord must tell you the name of the screening company and your right to get a copy of the report from the tenant screening company. You can also ask your landlord for a copy of your report.

Keep in mind that a landlord can’t access or “pull” your tenant screening or credit report unless they have a permissible purpose. That purpose will typically be for considering your rental application or could be because you’ve first given the landlord written permission.

Check your credit reports before submitting a rental application

Before you begin the process of looking for rentals and filling out rental applications, check your credit reports. Most tenant screening companies will get your credit report as part of your tenant screening. By checking your credit reports before you apply, you can make sure they’re accurate, spot any errors, and dispute those errors.

Through December 31, 2022, you can check your online credit reports for free on a weekly basis from the three national credit reporting companies. You want to check all three credit reports because it is unlikely you will know which credit reporting company is used by the landlord or the landlord’s tenant screening company.

You can also request reports from specialty consumer reporting companies, including tenant screening companies. However, there are many tenant screening companies and any report you request from one company may be different from the tenant screening company used by the landlord. We have compiled a list of some of these companies and how to request your reports.

Questions to ask potential landlords about tenant screening

When looking for a rental, ask questions to make sure you fully understand the process for how they’ll screen you as a potential tenant.

  • What is involved in tenant screening and what information will be collected?
  • How much is the tenant screening fee, and will the landlord charge you more for the tenant screening report than what it costs the landlord? Is there an additional fee for conducting the screening? Generally, most landlords will simply pass the cost of the tenant screening report on to you. Some state laws prohibit landlords from charging more than the actual cost of the report.
  • If you have poor credit, eviction records, or a criminal history, will that prevent you from getting the rental? Will the landlord let you explain the situation? You may want to consider discussing these issues with a potential landlord before paying a tenant screening fee.

Provide complete information on your rental application

If you do fill out the rental application, make sure the information that you provide is complete and accurate, including your full legal name, date and place of birth, and any other identifying information.

This helps ensure you’re not confused with someone else with a similar name – sometimes screening companies will pull someone else’s information. Taking this step can help prevent this issue, which is why you want to get a copy of your report if you’re denied housing or credit.

Learn more about how to check your credit reports and scores