January 4, 2017

Tenant Screening Options For Part-Time Landlords

Any landlord who's been around the block knows that every successful tenancy begins with careful tenant screening. There are many tenant screening services available to landlords, but we'll share a few great resources that make it quick and easy to check a potential tenant’s credit and criminal background. The services below are user-friendly and affordable.

First, it’s worth noting that federal law mandates that all three major credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax—require landlords to undergo a rigorous on-site inspection by a licensed third party inspector before receiving an applicant's full credit report. Inspectors check to make sure that reports are stored in a locked file cabinet, that there is a shredder onsite, and that the landlord’s home office is separate from the living area. Inspections can take several days to schedule and incur an additional cost to the landlord. Additionally, many part-time landlords may not pass such an inspection. For these reasons, we are providing a list of services that do not require an on-site inspection. Because the applicant initiates the tenant screening process, an on-site inspection is not required to use the services below, making them ideal for smaller landlords who screen tenants only a few times each year.


How it works: Upon creating an account, landlords are asked a series of questions based on information from their own consumer history to verify their identity. The landlord then invites potential tenants to submit applications. The renter fills out the application online, submits payment, and shares the report with the landlord. Within minutes, the landlord is notified by email and can log in to view the applicant's credit, criminal and eviction reports.

What we like: RentConnect lets renters pull their own credit and share their full credit report with the landlord. Additionally, because the renter initiates and pays for their own report, it results in a “soft” inquiry that doesn’t hurt the applicant’s credit score. RentConnect offers renters an added layer of protection by not displaying social security or account numbers on the final report that is shared with the landlord.

Cost: Renters are responsible for the cost of each report that the landlord requests. Renters may share reports with multiple landlords up to 30 days from purchase.

  • Credit report $14.95
  • Criminal background report $14.95
  • Eviction history $14.95
  • Credit report, criminal background report, and eviction report $34.95

Visit RentConnect’s website here.

TransUnion SmartMove

How it works: The landlord sets up an account and creates a profile for each rental property. The landlord can then invite potential tenants to apply through TransUnion’s website. The landlord is notified by email once an application has been submitted and the reports are complete. Turnaround time is typically only several minutes. TransUnion SmartMove offers two packages from which landlords can choose. The QuickCheck includes a bottom line leasing recommendation to accept or decline the potential tenant and a criminal background check. The QuickCheck Plus includes a leasing recommendation and the applicant's full credit, criminal and eviction reports. While results do not include the applicant's FICO score, they do include a "ResidentScore," which is a number ranging from 350-850 that is based on the applicant's credit history, simalar to a credit score. 

What we like: TransUnion SmartMove allows landlords to quickly access potential tenants’ credit and criminal background reports. Additionally, the service affords renters an added layer of security by maintaining the confidentiality of their personal identifying information. Results include a credit history, but the applicant’s social security number is not visible. Because the renter initiates the request, the credit check is considered a "soft" hit and does not impact the renter's credit score.

Cost: When landlords initiate the process, they can choose to pay the application fee or request that the potential tenant shoulder the cost. Pricing is as follows.

  • Leasing recommendation, ResidentScore, and criminal background report $25
  • Leasing recommendation, ResidentScore, full credit report, criminal background report and eviction report $35

Check out TransUnion SmartMove here

Rent Application

How it works: Before creating an account, landlords are asked a short series of questions to verify their identity. The landlord then receives a unique URL that links to the property’s rental application. The landlord directs potential tenants to this link, which enables them to complete the application and submit payment online. The landlord is notified by email when applications are completed and may view the renter’s credit, criminal, and eviction reports within minutes. Results include the applicant's full credit report, including a credit score. 

What we like: Registration is fast, and the site allows landlords to customize their rental applications, adding and removing questions as needed. To protect the renter's privacy, reports show only the last four digits of the applicant's social security number. Rent Application is a local Chicago company, formerly known as Rocket Lease.

Cost: Rent Application is free for landlords. Fees are paid by the applicant upon submission of the application. Landlords can specify which reports they’d like processed. Pricing is below.

  • Credit report $19.95
  • Criminal background report, eviction history, employment verification and landlord verification is available for an additional $10 each

Learn more about Rent Application here

By the way, all Chicago landlords are reminded not to accept any rental application, irrespective of the results of a credit report, until they've examined a bona fide form of photo identification clearly tying the prospective tenant to the name on the report. Careful landlords should check the birthdate on a credit report to the birthdate on a driver's license to ensure that children who bear the same name as their parents do not attempt to finagle their way into a lease by substituting their parents' pristine credit for their own. Trust us. That's happened before.

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