Background Checks...... Uh, how do I do this

21 Replies

Hello everyone, rather new to tenant placing. I was wondering what services you all use to do background checks on a tenant? There are several out there and I want to make sure I use a service that is legitimate. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you!

Hi Bryan,  

We used cozy.co for our tenant screening AND IT's FREE! It was really great - they have a system where the person applying creates a login and cozy walks them through an application, background check and credit check. It's free for the landlord and cozy charges the each tenant separately for the processing fee. All we had to do was send them the cozy application link for our property.

The only thing I thought was a downer was that the application didn't allow for customizing, but you can always ask them any essential questions separate if you'd like.  

Our tenants also submit their rent payments and maintenance requests directly through cozy so you can use it as an all around landlord software if you'd like. It was a win-win for us!

@Bryan Clement

There are a lot and they all seem similar but there can be some big differences in what they search. Make sure you use a service that searches your county for evictions. That’s the best correlation to future evictions.

@Bryan Clement

Cozy.co is pretty good, but TenantCloud is also free and has all the features of cozy plus more, such as being able to fully customize your application. Also has reasonable pricing plans if you want even more features. I highly recommend it.

@Tyler Phalen I have not heard of that before, I will have to check that one out! I do like the in-depth tenant screening they provide. And @Domenick T., good to know about the county evictions, that is definitely a great thing to double check. Thanks!

@Bryan Clement if you go with Cozy it is $50 for the applicant, $25 for credit and $25 for background check. I Zillow has similar but charges less to the applicant ($29 I thinkg). They both appear to use Experian for credit and Checkr for background.

@Bryan Clement

I try to have multiple options for tenants. Whatever gets the one I want to fill out an application, I go with.

1. Cozy- great and easy. Interfaces well with my rent collection process. Definitely my first choice for more high tech folks

2. Zillow- I use Zillow because my properties are listed on Zillow as a way to advertise. They have a decent credit report but I wish it was as transparent as cozy.

3. Hard copy- the local landlord association will process paper copies. For some reason a lot of people like them. Folks that are turned off by online applications and glitches. I think the report sucks as far as information but it does give a score in regards to credit.

Good luck!!!

Good to know @Joe Splitrock , I was going to skip the credit check because 100% of the rent is paid through Section 8. Would you still check their credit anyway, or does it make sense to skip since they will not be paying it?

@Bryan Clement I use Trulia and turn on the "Accept application" button. The tenant can apply online and the background check is performed by Trulia. The tenants alsol pay for it so you are not involved at all.

@Bryan Clement , I actually want to know the answer to this question. Would we even check the credit of a section 8 tenant? The only thing I can think of that would need to be done is a background check to confirm felonies.


@Bryan Clement ,

We use Cozy.co for our bank ground checks,  however it doesn't stop there as we've found they sometimes miss things.   

Check your local District Court website-- VA just upgraded their website, so it's almost like I can do a quick background check for free by just having a name. I do this as "pre-screening" as all you need is name as it's all free/public information! You can figure people out pretty quickly.

Hi Bryan, I'm happy to hear that you're doing your research. There are a lot of great options out there; aside from providing the basics (ie. listing tool to get the property published to 10+ major sites, scheduling tool to schedule viewings, tenant screening with comprehensive applications which include nationwide criminal background checks + credit checks + eviction history, digital lease creation tool, rent collection tool, and maintenance tracking tool), some services also offer your tenants additional capabilities which makes it an easier sell on your end when getting them to transition over (ie. their ability to report on-time rent payments to the credit bureaus; this can create an added incentive for making sure they pay that rent on time). Happy to answer any questions you have. Either way, you're on BP so you're in the right place. @Bryan Clement

@Bryan Clement I would recommend checking out the landlord resources tab on BiggerPockets.  You can find this tab by hovering over the Tools bar and then selecting landlord resources under services.  

There is a list of screening companies on there that are recommended by BiggerPockets.  I would suggest checking out the recommended services and choosing the company that best fits your screening needs!

Originally posted by @Bryan Clement :

Good to know @Joe Splitrock, I was going to skip the credit check because 100% of the rent is paid through Section 8. Would you still check their credit anyway, or does it make sense to skip since they will not be paying it?

 Always run a credit report. A credit report contains so much more information than just a credit score. 

What a credit port reveals is who they own money to, how much they owe, recent loans, address confirmation, judgments (including landlord judgments) and how recently the activity occurred. You can learn interesting things, like it may say "123 Oak Street, Apartment 1" as a previous address, yet they don't mention it on their application. You call the apartment complex and find out something bad happened. Information is power. Even if you just accept the negative, at least you know what you are accepting. There is no down side for a landlord running a credit report.

@Bryan Clement I have used SmartMove. However, also check court dockets and records for any county the tenant has lived or worked in.

I used smartmove for my last tenant and they missed they had an eviction 8 years ago. I wouldn’t have rented for them knowing that. I found it in the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.

Lots of great information here everyone, thank you for all the advice, I will most definitely be checking a few of them out!

One thing I think everyone is missing the boat on when relying in easy screening choices like Cozy and Zillow is that when you use a source that handles the application for you, you lose control of the use of the data in the future.  On my application my applicant gives me approval to submit inquiries about them for both the approval and enforcement of our lease.  If my tenant skips, I have their permission to rerun their credit in a few month, which is an easy way to figure out where they are living so you can serve/obtain judgment/garnish if necessary.  These sites who collect the data for you obtain permission for themselves to do the initial screening.  You lose out without the permission being granted for you and for the future.  Instead, I suggest you consider a source like National Tenant Network, who will give you an on-line application link and give you control of the screening process.  Since the charge is less than most people charge for an application fee, it's also a small revenue generator.  This is a way smarter way to make a decision, in my experience.