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Decoding Tenant Screening Reports: What Does a Rental Background Check Consist Of

Key Takeaways

A comprehensive tenant report examines a person’s past employment and addresses, publicly available information, credit history, and criminal records. This helps landlords determine if applicants will be a good fit for their rental properties.

Published on May 12, 2023 | Updated on Feb 14, 2024

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In today’s competitive rental market, where rental scams abound, a more in-depth vetting process that goes beyond pre-screening interviews is needed. That’s why one of the most critical steps of the tenant screening process is conducting a background check.

But what does a rental background check consist of? A thorough report can reveal vital information about a potential tenant’s character, rental history, and financial stability. You can then use these details to determine whether they’d be a good fit for your rental property.

In this article, we’ll break down each part of a tenant background check, and how you can use this valuable information to decide who deserves the keys to your rental.

What is a tenant background check?

A tenant background check is a process for evaluating prospective tenants based on their past behaviour. It involves gathering and assessing data from various sources to determine how responsible and trustworthy a tenant might be.

The most practical way to get the information you need is to acquire a tenant background check report. This document will arm you with the knowledge to answer critical questions about the tenant, such as:

  • How likely are they to pay rent on time?
  • Will they get along with my neighbours?
  • Are they likely to engage in criminal activity on my property?
  • Are they prone to aggressive behaviour and initiating conflict?
  • Will they abide by the terms of my lease agreement?
  • Are they likely to stay long-term, or do they tend to move around often?
  • Will they take good care of my rental property?

Before you can run a background check on an applicant, you’ll need to obtain their written permission. You may also ask them to provide their social insurance number (SIN) to ensure an accurate match is found with the credit bureau, but keep in mind that it is up to the applicant whether they want to provide their SIN or not.

What does a rental background check consist of?

While all rental background checks vary,  most of the information that is collected falls under the following categories:

  • General information: General details about the applicant include their full name, current address, date of birth, phone number, employer, and various references. This section typically includes details related to their lifestyle, such as whether they smoke.
  • Public records check: You can find plenty of helpful, publicly available information about an applicant through various public databases and online platforms. In this part of the background check, you can discover facts about their past employment, former addresses, and even news stories they appeared in.
  • Criminal record check: A criminal record check will help you verify whether or not the applicant has a history of any illegal activity. You can read up on the specific crimes committed, the date of the charge, whether they were convicted, and more.
  • Credit check: A credit check provides a snapshot of the tenant’s current financial situation. It can help you determine how financially responsible the applicant is and whether they’ll be able to handle monthly rent payments. By pulling their credit report, you’ll have access to details about the applicant’s such as their payment history, the amount of debt they owe, and their monthly payment amounts. Remember that this is not indicative of an applicant’s complete financial history. A poor credit score might be due to external factors beyond the applicant’s control.

Decoding the parts of a tenant background check

Now that you have a good overview of what a tenant background check report includes, let’s explore in detail what each section covers.

Applicant’s key scores

Example of an applicant's general score as part of a tenant background report

Applicant’s general score: This figure is an applicant’s general score that rates the applicant’s risk as a tenant on a scale from 1 to 100 based on the report’s proprietary scoring model. The higher the score, the better qualified the applicant is for tenancy.

Example of a credit score as part of a tenant background report

Credit score: This three-digit number measures creditworthiness. In other words, it shows the likelihood that the individual will pay their bills on time, which includes rent. In Canada, credit scores range from 300 to 900. However, many reports use the FICO credit score model, which runs from 300 to 850. While a high score may indicate that there is low risk in accepting the applicant as a tenant, keep in mind that this score captures one moment in a person’s financial history. It doesn’t represent their full financial track record. 

Example of a rent-to-income score as part of a tenant background report

Rent-to-income ratio: This financial metric measures how much of their income the applicant would use to cover rent, expressed as a percentage. Generally, the lower the rent-to-income ratio, the less likely the tenant will default on their rent payments.

Example of a monthly debt payments summary as part of a tenant background report

Monthly debt payments: How big are the applicant’s monthly debt obligations? This detail is vital to know as a landlord, as heavily indebted renters will experience more challenges paying rent on time.

Pro tip: 
Never rely solely on a few key highlights and ratings to guide your decision on whether to accept or reject a tenant. Dig into the details to uncover further information and interview the individual to understand their circumstances. Always consider the bigger picture.
Applicant’s general information

Below the overview, you’ll find general information about the applicant. Mainly, it will consist of the following self-reported details from their rental application form:

Example of an applicant's information on a tenant background report

Personal information: Here you’ll find the applicant’s full name, phone number, date of birth, email address, SIN, and/or driver’s licence number. These details will help you verify that the applicant is who they say they are.

Example of employment information in a tenant background report

Employment information: This section contains the applicant’s current employment details. It usually lists their employer’s organization name, their position at the company, the contact details of their supervisor, length of employment, and gross annual income. You’ll find this information helpful when doing an employment reference check.

Example of the current address information found in a tenant background report

Current address: If the applicant is a renter, you’ll also find their landlord’s name and contact information listed here, how long they’ve been a tenant at the location, and their reason for moving.

Example of the previous address information found in a tenant background report

Previous address: This section outlines the tenant’s past residences, including addresses and landlord contact details. Both the current and previous addresses, as well as the landlord contact information, will come in handy when you conduct a landlord reference check.

Example of miscellaneous details found in a tenant background report

Miscellaneous details: Here, you’ll find various facts about the applicant’s lifestyle, preferences, and habits. Depending on what information they have chosen to disclose, you’ll know whether they smoke, own any pets, have declared bankruptcy, or have been convicted of a serious crime.

Pro tip: Ensure you verify the applicant’s current employment and rental history by contacting their employer and current/previous landlords, respectively. Never take the information provided at face value.

Background check summary

After the applicant’s general information, you’ll typically find a rundown of the key results of their background check. The purpose is to draw your attention to areas of concern that may warrant further investigation.

A grade or score may appear near the top of this section, indicating whether the applicant “passed” or “failed” the background check overall. An example of this is below:

Example of an overall rating and score in a background check summaryIn addition, you’ll find the following details:Example of a Report Summary in a Tenant Background Report

A report summary outlines the type of information the background check report was able to retrieve from various public databases.

Example of a Background Check Summary in a Tenant Background ReportThe applicant’s score or grade in each category of the background check is also listed. Categories marked as “cleared” indicate no record of the applicant within that particular set of databases. As a landlord, this is what you want to see across all or most background check categories.
Alternatively, any section marked as “likely” means there’s a chance the applicant appears in that specific class of databases.
Example of Notable Risks in a Tenant Background Report

There is also a section that highlights any significant risk factors.

Pro tip: Don’t make a judgment call on a summary alone. Ensure you do your due diligence.

Public records scan

After the background check summary is a list of the applicant’s publicly-available information. Details here may include everything from past employers to court decisions and public posts on social media sites.
How does your report’s provider get all this information? They hire specialized service providers who scan thousands of publicly available databases, collecting all relevant documentation and organizing it.

Typically, this section of the report includes details about criminal records. However, we’ll review this section separately, given its importance. 

Here’s an example what you’ll find in a typical public records section:

Example of social details in a tenant background report
(Click to zoom)
  • Social media profile: A list of the applicant’s public social media accounts and the associated URLs.
  • Employment history: Records of the tenant’s past employment, including the employer’s company name, website, and contact details.
  • Residential history: A list of the tenant’s previous residences, typically only the address of each.
  • Education history: Has the tenant attended a college or university? If so, this section will list the post-secondary institution, the program the applicant was enrolled in, and the graduation date.
  • Biographies: This includes publicly-available biographies of the tenant with the associated links.
  • Media mentions: A list of links to news stories from media outlets that reference the applicant.
Pro tip: Always cross-reference the information you obtained from public records with the details provided by the applicant on their rental application form and during the pre-screening interview. If there are significant discrepancies, that’s a sign the applicant may be trying to deceive you.

Criminal record scan

In the criminal records section of the report, you’ll find further details about any matches flagged as “likely” (or something similar, depending on your report’s format) on the background check summary page.
The most prominent part of this section of the report is the criminal record scan, which outlines any criminal offences committed by the applicant.
Typically, the scan returns one of two results:
  • Match found: This score indicates a high correlation between the applicant’s self-reported data (name, address, date of birth, etc.) and the information found in the database. In other words, you can confidently predict that the crime listed corresponds to the applicant.
  • Possible match: This score indicates there’s only a possibility the applicant’s self-reported data matches the crime. As a result, you’ll need to conduct additional research to verify whether the applicant committed the offence.
Suppose the report lists a criminal record with a credible link to the applicant. In that case, you’ll find the following details:
Example of a criminal history match in a tenant background report
(Click to zoom)
  • Category of crime: The crime committed, such as drug possession, aggravated assault, or theft.
  • Stage of proceedings: Depending on the outcome of the criminal case, the applicant may have been arrested, charged, convicted, or sentenced.
  • Type of offence: This can be a misdemeanor (a less severe crime that involves fines or short jail terms) or felony (a serious offence resulting in a prolonged prison sentence or steep fine).
  • Description: A brief description of how the applicant was arrested and what laws they were charged with breaking.
  • Date: The date of the arrest, charge, conviction, or sentencing.

In addition to a criminal record review, a background check report also includes the following scans:

Example of information scans in a tenant background report
(Click to zoom)
  • Fraud scan: A search of fraud watchlists from financial regulatory bodies
  • Sexual offence scan: A global search of the registries of most jurisdictions for various sexual offences
  • Global sanctions and enforcement scan: A search of international registries identifying very high-risk individuals, such as those from the FBI’s Most Wanted.
  • Known affiliations scan: A search of various public and police databases for known affiliation with gangs, terrorist organizations, etc.
  • Global clearance scan: A search of worldwide terrorist watchlists.
  • Public safety scan: A search of a broad range of global databases for individuals deemed a threat to public safety.
  • Other scans: A search for miscellaneous negative information, such as eviction records and blacklists.
Pro tip: Don’t disqualify a tenant outright because they possess a criminal record. Instead, consider factors such as the nature of the offence, how long ago it took place, and whether the tenant’s presence will threaten you and your neighbours.

Our final thoughts

As a landlord, you owe it to yourself to find a tenant who is responsible, respectful, and, most of all, capable of paying your rent on time. 

It’s perfectly acceptable to consider your gut feeling about a tenant when you interview them. How they respond to your questions can reveal crucial details about their intentions and trustworthiness. 

However, you can’t always spot the warning signs during an interview or through self-reported information on an application form. That’s why conducting a comprehensive tenant background check is vital as part of your screening process. A reliable and objective background report can help you fill in the knowledge gaps and verify the information provided by applicants. Then, you can make an informed decision about who to invite into your rental. 

SingleKey’s Tenant Report arms you with everything you need to evaluate a tenant from a single comprehensive and easy-to-read report.

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