Finding your ideal apartment is no easy feat, but that’s just half the battle. Landing the apartment takes just as much effort, and the contents of your background check will greatly determine the result.
So, what exactly does a background check cover, and how does it influence the landlord’s decision? More importantly, how long does it take, and how far back does it go? Keep reading to discover the answers to all these questions and see what steps you can take to improve your chances of landing your dream home.
How Long Does an Apartment Background Check Take?
Typically, a background check will take a few hours to complete if done by an agency, with the owner getting the result in less than 24 hours. Of course, it may take a bit more if the request is sent right before the weekend, but overall, it shouldn’t take more than 1-2 days.
However, if the landlord himself conducts the check, then you can assume that the background check will take 3-4 days. That’s because checking all your references will take some time, as the landlord will have to wait for the other parties to return his calls and answer his questions. So, don’t be too alarmed if you don’t hear from your potential landlord for a few days.
Still, why does it take so long to run a background check? More specifically, what are all the things that the owner has to check before deciding if you can move into his property? Let’s take a look and see, shall we?
What Does a Background Check Include?
Generally, a background check for an apartment consists of four things: your rental history, your employment history, your criminal record, and your credit score. Why you ask? I’ll tell you right below.
Rental History Report
This is probably the first thing your landlord will check for when running a background check. In the report, you can find all the addresses of all the places you’ve previously rented, together with the contact information of the property managers/owners.
This is so that they can ask for references and see what kind of tenant you are. Essentially, are you the type that pays on time or the one that keeps pushing back the payments?
And it’s not just that. The landlord will also be looking for a history of eviction, property damage, or any other trouble you caused at your previous accommodations. If he happens to find any of these issues, then he’ll consider it a bad move to leave the care of his property to you.
But what if you don’t have a rental history?
Does this affect your chances of getting the apartment?
Well, not necessarily. In that case, the owner will simply look for other things that may indicate you’ll pay your rent on time, such as proof of employment.
To cut a long story, the landlord is just trying to see if you’re a trustworthy tenant who won’t become a headache down the line. So, the better rental history you have, the better chances you have of getting accepted.
Income/Proof of Employment
The next thing any landlord will check for is your income. Essentially, they’re looking for a tenant who makes three times the monthly rent. Again, this is to make sure you have enough to cover your rent every month with no delays.
But, they don’t just verify your income; they also check how long you’ve been working at your current job. They typically prefer someone who’s had the same job for at least six months, as someone who’s been working in the same place for a long time is likely to stay for the duration of the lease. They don’t want someone who frequently changes jobs and accommodations.
As such, they’ll call your employer/company to make sure you actually work where you said you work, and they’ll also inquire about the length of your employment and your income.
So, be truthful when writing these facts in your application, as any contradiction the landlord finds will most likely take you out of the running.
Oh, and don’t act smart and list your friend or family member as your employer. A Google search for the company number followed by a quick call will crack your lie in a minute.
Still, what if you haven’t been working for a long time in your current company? What if you’ve just moved and you still haven’t started your new job?
In those cases, make sure to include your offer letter as well as some letters of recommendation in your application. A letter from your new employee explaining that you’ve been recently scouted is another great thing to have.
But, what if all this isn’t enough to convince the landlord? In that case, you could show him your bank statement to prove you’ve got a good amount saved for rent. You’ve also got the option of asking a guarantor to co-sign the lease. Just see what will convince the landlord and try to do it.
Your credit score will similarly affect your chance of landing the apartment as it allows a pretty good glimpse at your financial history.
Now, most landlords like a credit score of 600 or more, as this usually indicates that you diligently pay your bills. However, a credit score seldom tells the whole story, and that’s why a score on the lower end doesn’t always end up in a rejection.
Rather than the score itself, the landlords will be looking for patterns in your credit report. It can be quite easy to tell if you’re consistent with your payments or not just by looking at the patterns.
For instance, say you’ve experienced an unexpected event that caused you to fall behind on your payments (think: a job loss or a car accident). The owner should be able to tell that from your credit history and consider the circumstances when making his final decision.
So, make sure to look at your credit report before applying for the apartment. That way, you’ll have the chance to correct any errors that may come up in it and save yourself some trouble.
And if you find your credit score to be extremely low or if you don’t have a credit history, then it’s best to have a guarantor at hand. If you don’t, well, it’s best you prepare yourself for the rejection.
Your criminal history is the last thing that’ll come up in a background check. You should know that a criminal history doesn’t just include convictions. It also includes non-convictions, aka dismissed or unprosecuted
cases. Typically, non-convictions will stay on your record for seven years, while convictions are permanent. That’s, of course, provided you haven’t gotten your record sealed or expunged.
Now, some landlords may reject you simply for having a criminal record; however, that usually goes against fair housing laws. So, make sure to familiarize yourself with the local state laws, as they can vary greatly from place to place. That way, you can protect yourself from discrimination.
And finally, know that it’s best you lay your cards on the table from the get-go. Don’t hide your criminal record, as the landlord will find out about it during the background check anyway. Instead, explain your side of the story, and you’ll have a much better chance of swaying him over.
How Far Back Does a Background Check for Apartments Go?
Usually, a background check will cover your employment and credit history for the last seven to ten years.
Negative information such as a car repossession or defaulting on a loan will stay on your credit report for seven years. However, a bankruptcy will stay there for ten years.
Can a Landlord Reject Your Application Based on a Background Check?
Well, yes. Background checks aren’t just a formality.
If any landlord suspects you won’t be a good tenant, then they have every right to reject your application. However, they have to inform you in some way or another as to why they came to such a decision. Not only that, but they must also give you the contact information of the agency that ran the background check according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Keep in mind that outdated negative information shouldn’t be included in your report nor be a reason for rejection.
Additionally, a flat-out rejection for simply having a criminal record is unacceptable according to the HUD, which states that “Policies that exclude persons based on criminal history must be tailored to serve the housing provider’s substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.”
In simple terms, the landlord must have a legitimate reason to believe that renting out the apartment to you would lead to trouble or place the other tenants in danger. That’s why landlords must always take into account the type and severity of the crime committed, as well as how much time has passed since the person was convicted.
Now, it’s worth noting that landlords must apply the same standards to all applicants. They can’t just reject someone due to bad rental history and accept another with the same circumstances.
So, if you think you’ve been unfairly refused, then you should file a complaint with the HUD and see what they make of the situation.
How Much Do Background Checks Cost?
As you know, paying a rental application fee when applying for an apartment is a must for any applicant. This fee is to cover the price of the background check, and it typically ranges from $30-$60, though in some cases, it may reach $200.
Of course, some landlords may raise the application fee to an exorbitant amount, far beyond the amount needed to pay an agency for a background check. In such a case, you should check the state laws to see if the landlord is over the set limit.
Still, not all states determine the maximum amount. So, try to ask around in your area about the typical application fee before handing over your wallet.
Is There a Way Around Getting a Background Check When Renting an Apartment?
Landlords, be they independent or part of an apartment community, will almost always do a background check. It doesn’t matter if they do it themselves or hire a company. The result will be the same, even if the time to get there is different.
You should know that having a problematic report may take you out of the running, especially when applying for an apartment community belonging to a substantial management company.
However, you may be able to come to an understanding with an independent landlord by offering some concessions. For example, you can offer to sign a longer lease or pay a higher security deposit. Getting some noteworthy references and letters of recommendation will also put you in better standing, and so will being truthful about your history.
The end goal here is to establish trust between you and the owner. So, do whatever you can to make that happen, and you’ll be living in your dream home in no time.
Background checks are a necessary part of any apartment application, and for a good reason. Basically, they show your potential landlord whether you’ll pay your rent on time, which is the thing he cares about the most. However, they also show whether you’ll be an all-around trustworthy tenant by covering various aspects of your life.
Still, even though background checks are very detailed, they usually only take a couple of days to complete. So, once the landlord checks the results, you should hear from him in a matter of minutes. And in the unlikely event you get rejected, make sure to know why that happened and try to fix any errors that may have caused the rejection to occur.