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What Landlords Need to Know About Rental History Reports

A rental history report tells you everywhere your potential tenant lived and when, and if they had outstanding rent payments, evictions, or any other issues at any past properties.

As a landlord, you want to make sure potential tenants will be reliable ones. Income verification helps you figure out if they have the money to pay the bills—but a rental history gives you insight into whether or not they'll still be late with the rent or cause a lot of problems in the building.

What is a rental history report?

A rental history report will tell you everything you need to know about your potential tenant’s past rentals. Third-party reports are comprehensive—so you’ll not only get the addresses of where they lived before, but also their previous landlords and contact information; when they lived there; their monthly rent; whether they had any issues like late rent, evictions, broken leases, damaged property, or other things like that; and a review from past landlords.

But a lot of landlords skip the expensive third-party report and instead opt to do it themselves for free, using information they’ve gathered from a potential tenant.

Why is the information on a rental history report useful?

If you want to have a full understanding of what each applicant is like as a renter, the rental history report is invaluable. It gives you an idea of how likely that person is to break a lease or skip rent payments before you ever get them into the building—which means you can potentially save yourself both the headache of having to track down a problem tenant and the financial damage of evicting them. These reports are also important because you’ll be able to see what that person has been paying in rent previously, and whether they can afford your apartment or not.

Where can I get a rental history report for my potential tenant?

Generally, third-party companies provide rental history reports, for a fee. The American Apartment Owners Association offers one, and the Landlord Credit Bureau offers an online database. Keep in mind that only a handful of companies are registered with the Consumer Finance Protection Board; you may want to use one of those if you expect the tenant to also look for a copy of the report.

If you opt to collect the information yourself, you’ll need to get previous addresses, landlord names, and contact information from your potential tenant. Then you can spend some time on the phone with each landlord to discuss rental information and how the tenant behaved during their time living at the property.

What information on a rental history report is most useful for landlords?

When you’re looking at a potential tenant’s report, keep an eye out for any red flags—meaning rent payment issues, run-ins with police, negative recommendations from past landlords, or any other sort of problem. These are an initial warning sign that you may not want to rent to this person. For third-party reports, keep in mind that a rental history report will give you hard data about potential tenants, but it doesn’t always go into more nuance than that or verify that the information is truly accurate. If you want the full story behind an eviction, late rent payments, or something else, it’s best to both call the old landlord and speak to the tenant themselves in order to determine the details.

What if the potential tenant has no rental history?

If the person interested in your apartment has never rented before, they aren’t going to have a rental history. (College students and recent graduates often fall into this category.) In this case, you’ll need to rely on credit history, personal references, and proof of income. You can ask for a co-signer or guarantor on the lease if you’re worried, as well.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.