Do Apartments Run Background Checks?

Background checks are a great way for landlords to ensure that potential tenants are a good fit to live in their property. Apartment complexes are allowed to run background checks on applicants so long as the applicant gives written consent to do so. This blog post will look at the laws apartment complexes must follow when it comes to running background checks, as well as other related topics that can help give clarity to the entire process of moving into an apartment.

What Is Shown in a Background Check?

Before we can discuss the legalities of background checks and how they affect felons, it is important to know everything possible about background checks. Background checks will reveal someone’s credit score, criminal history, driving record and more. Background checks are very popular among employers, but can be used by anyone, especially landlords.

A large part of a background check landlords run look for evictions. This is arguably the most important aspect of a tenant background check that landlords look at to determine if they should grant the applicant an apartment. Felon or not, having a conviction on your background check will make it considerably harder to find an apartment. For landlords, it is just not worth the risk to let someone with prior evictions rent out one of their apartments.

Proof of income is also heavily taken into account when a landlord is reviewing someone’s application. Proof of income typically comes in the form of viewing work history, hourly or salary rates, and bank accounts. Landlords like to view proof of income to make sure the applicant can afford to pay their monthly rent. If the applicant does not make enough money to pay the rent, then the application is revoked.

Many felons worry that they will be turned away as soon as the landlord sees their felony conviction on their background check. Later in the article we will cover the laws landlords must follow as it relates to felons, but for now we will examine the background check itself.

Before landlords can run a background check, they must have written permission to do so. This written permission is commonly on the apartment application itself in the form of a checkbox, but every complex is different. If you decline to consent to letting the landlord run a background check, it is a safe assumption that your application will be revoked. Landlords like transparency. Transparency lets the landlord know exactly who is moving into their apartment.

Background checks help landlords obtain this transparency so that they can make an informed decision whether to let someone move in or not. As a felon, transparency can seem hurtful since your criminal record will be known to the landlord. Criminal records, for the most part, do not automatically dismiss an applicant.

Understanding How Apartment Complexes Work.

Apartment complexes are structed to make money. Landlords want to make sure that their building is making as much money as possible with the least amount of problems. Landlords care more about an applicant’s credit score and debt than they do about their criminal record. Do not confuse this with the idea that landlords do not care about the criminal record, it just is not prioritized as much as financial matters in a background check.

Landlords are able to see employment history as well through a background check. Landlords want applicants that have a steady source of income. The longer the applicant has held a job, the more value that applicant has to the landlord. This is because the landlord knows that the potential tenant can afford to pay rent on a monthly basis. If a tenant applies to live in an apartment complex with no verified source of income, the landlord will most likely decline the applicant the right to move in.

The terms of renting an apartment vary, but most rental agreements require the tenant to pay “first & lasts”. What this means is that before a tenant can move into the apartment, they must cough up the first month’s payment and the last months payment. This is done simply because the landlord wants to make sure you can afford the monthly rent.

Apartments are investments for landlords. If a resident can no longer pay the landlord to live in the building, then the landlord is losing money every day the unpaying tenant is there. A background check helps give landlords a good idea of how much money someone is making a month. That information can then be used to evaluate if the applicant can afford the monthly rent.

Laws for Landlords.

Contrary to popular belief, landlords do have the authority to decline an applicant based on their criminal record. The landlord is not required to explain themselves and why they made the decision they did. Felons can be declined an apartment based on their criminal record.

One reason why some landlords do not accept felons is due to risk. A landlord may not want the risk of having a felon occupy one of their apartments. The landlord may face backlash from other residents if they find out that a felon is their neighbor, causing them to move out and decrease the profits for the landlord. Another reason may be that the landlord fears that the felon will commit criminal acts inside the apartment and the landlord may be held accountable. Whatever the reason is, landlords have full authority to decline a felon from moving in based on the criminal record.

Landlords are able to decline someone residence for a number of reasons, but they cannot revoke an application based on the person’s race, sexual orientation, gender, or nationality. There are many more reasons a landlord cannot decline someone from moving in, these are just the most popular. Landlords are also allowed to prevent someone from moving in based on how much money they make. Proof of income was briefly mentioned earlier in the article but it is important to stress that landlords can choose not to give someone an apartment based on how much they earn.

What All This Means for Felons.

The information presented above applies to everyone. Felon or not, landlords will look at your background check and use the background check to assist them in reaching a decision whether to grant you an apartment. This section will focus on what all of the information above means for felons, and how felons can increase their chances of getting an apartment.

It was previously covered that a felon can be turned away from renting an apartment based on their previous criminal convictions. Landlords do not want to turn away potential residents, therefore in most cases landlords prioritize other factors of the background check to make their decision. The only time a landlord will choose to not let a felon rent an apartment is if they feel that the felon poses a threat to the other residents, the building, or to themselves. Landlords do not want a legal battle, which is why some landlords just decline every applicant that has a felony. This is not the standard, however.

In order for a felon to increase their chances of getting approved for an apartment, they must get and hold down a steady, high paying job. Landlords need to make sure that their residents can pay their bills, and if a felon can pay their bills, then the landlord typically has no problem with them. The advice for felons and for non-felons is the same: increase your credit score, pay off debts, and hold a high paying job. All of these things will appear on a background check and all of them are attractive to landlords.


Will my eviction from nine years ago show up on my background check?

In most cases, no. Background checks usually only go back seven years, so if the eviction was nine years ago, it will not be displayed. If the landlord has concerns about your application, they may request a background check that goes farther back in the past, but this is not common.

Do landlords call previous landlords?

A landlord may choose to contact a previous landlord if they have concerns or any questions they would like answered about the applicant. If your relationship was very positive with your past landlord, putting them as a reference may increase your chances of getting an apartment. Landlords trust each other, so try to have a good relationship with every landlord you have.

Can a landlord legally contact your employer?

Yes. Landlords commonly contact an applicant’s employer to make sure that they are actually employed. There is no law against this common practice since it is a practical thing for a landlord to do. Verification of employment is very important for a landlord, therefore in order to verify it, they call your listed employer themselves. If you have a good relationship with your boss or supervisor, consider putting them down as a reference.

Thank You for reading! Are you currently renting an apartment? What was the application process like for you? Let us know in the comments below!


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