Thorough Background Checks Can Save Your Clients Time and Money 

background check - REIP

While the ability to make rent is important, investors shouldn’t overlook the significance of a potential tenant’s character. Missed rent payments can derail cash flow, but someone who doesn’t respect the property (or the investor) can end up burning the house down—literally. A thorough background check should be a non-negotiable part of your investor clients’ tenant screening process. 

Qualities To Look for in A Background Check Service


The service your investor clients choose needs to deliver accurate information on the correct person. It is always a good idea for your investor clients to read reviews and see what other users of the service think. Sites such as Top Ten Reviews or Top Consumer Reviews are a good place to start. Any additional time spent finding a reputable service is a minor investment compared to the cost of eviction or an insurance claim later down the line. 

Ease of Use

A good service is one that will allow your investor clients to access their reports easily at a later date. Their second or third choice for an apartment today might be their first choice for a unit six months from now. Additionally, if the information presented in background checks is not familiar, the investor clients will want a service that includes explanations of each section of data or has a responsive customer support line. 

Search Customization

A solid search service should provide a preview page that contains possible matches for the individual being searched. That way, your investor clients don’t spend money on a report for the wrong person. A service with expanded search capabilities, offering a variety of ways to search for an applicant, such as by name or address, is a better option.  

Help and Support

The best service is usually found with companies that provide a variety of ways to reach them. Many will allow your investor clients to contact support via phone, live chat, or email. Investors should take a tour of the company’s website and see if they can easily find the information they’re looking for. Is there an FAQ section and keyword search? Is the staff friendly and engaged in the conversation when your investor client calls with a question? Chances are, the investor will have questions about the search results, and when that time comes, they will want a patient guide on the other end of the line. 

What types of searches are performed?

The more information your investor clients can gather about potential tenants during a background check, the better. Database searches may include state or county court records, America’s Most Wanted, FBI’s Most Wanted, terrorist databases, and the National Sex Offender Public Registry. The following are some of the most common types of checks: 

Criminal Search 

Although many sites may advertise a nationwide criminal record check, let’s be clear, only law enforcement professionals have access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which compiles a plethora of information to help criminal justice professionals apprehend criminals. With that stated, reputable background search services can compile data through multiple state searches. 

A criminal search may return a list of names that aren’t always a match for the applicant. For example, non-matching information may show up if there is only a partial name or date of birth in the court record. It is important to return all possible results, as excluding a partial match may eliminate the record your investor client is looking for. This is precisely why such broad search criteria for criminal records are used. 

It is also important to know that criminal searches can vary from state to state. Each state has different guidelines for what information is available immediately. For example, Utah makes both felonies and misdemeanors available from the Utah District Court, while in Wyoming, there isn’t any information provided to the database. Instant criminal results may not be available for Delaware, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Wyoming. This is why many services and property managers recommend doing a county search. A criminal history can be found by name and verified by the date of birth. 

Federal Bureau of Prisons Database

The Federal Bureau of Prisons Database contains the whereabouts of federal inmates incarcerated from 1982 to now. 

State Prison Inmate List

In addition to searching the federal database, investors will also want to search the state inmate list. Most state corrections departments have a search tool on their official websites. Investors should only use a government-sponsored search. Here’s an example from the Kansas Department of Corrections. 

County Court Records

At the county level, one of the most important documents to look for in a background check is an eviction record. It can be a challenge to find eviction records as these may only show up if the eviction was filed and a judgment occurred. These searches will also give results for other offenses at the county level, such as traffic violations. 

 To be certain that a potential applicant hasn’t been evicted, results should be cross-checked against a phone call to their previous landlords. If a potential tenant does show up in the county records, investors should inquire further about the circumstances of the eviction and also be sure to make notes accordingly in their file. 

The Office of Foreign Asset Control’s List of Sanctioned National Threats

Not only can renting to someone on this list be dangerous for others in the neighborhood, but it can also get the investor client in major trouble with the federal government if they do any business with them. Executive Order 13224, signed right after 9/11, “prohibits any U.S. company from doing business with any person that (1) has committed a terrorist act, (2) poses a risk of committing or supporting terrorist acts, or (3) is identified on the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons generated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.” This list can be searched right on  OFAC’s website. 

A Note About the TSA No-Fly List

This list is maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). Don’t be fooled, the No-Fly List is not publicly available for search. The Department of Homeland Security makes it available for air carriers flying into, out of, or within the United States for passenger pre-screening. However, the website is fake. You may notice it references a “Terrorist Security Administration,” but according to the FBI, the Terrorist Screening Center cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. 

National Sex Offender Search

Investors will want to be 100% sure that their applicant doesn’t come up on the National Sex Offender Registry. Like the criminal search, these records are listed by name and date of birth. They may also include a photo of the offender. 

Uncovering the Truth

To determine if the records match the applicant, investors will want to check the details listed on the record against observations about the applicant and the details they submitted on their application and ID card. No matter the results, investors should keep a copy of the findings for their records. The investor client may be asked later to prove why an applicant was denied and that it was a lawful denial. Rentler recommends checking the following: Applicant’s Name, Date of Birth, Gender/Sex, Race, Address, Picture, and Social Security Number. 

 Just because an investor finds history on a tenant’s background check doesn’t mean that they cannot rent to them. Carefully weigh the type and severity of offenses and how long ago the applicant was involved in any criminal activities. If the prospective tenant is in their mid-40s, it might be okay to give them a pass on the candy bar they stole at age 14. 

If, however, their offenses suggest a violent past, that could be a big red flag. Those with multiple alcohol-related charges demonstrate a disregard for the lives of others and a willingness to endanger themselves as well. Most importantly, investors should obtain accurate information so that they can choose the best of the best and avoid tenant damage. Your investor clients won’t regret the added time or effort.