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How to Check a Tenant & Subtenant's Background

Don't try and check someone's background for criminal history yourself. Instead, use a service that cross checks their identity with hundreds of databases.


A background check allows you to make sure that your potential tenant is who they say they are, doesn't have a criminal past that would concern you and hasn't ever done anything as a tenant that would make you less likely to want to rent to them.

If you are going to check someone's background yourself you will need to verify their identity, their rental history and their criminal history. There are different services that handle all or part of this for you.

Flip provides background checks designed for home rentals by working with Transunion Smart Move. Whether you have your applicant order a background check on Flip or handle it on your own, it's worth understanding the different components of a background check and why they matter.

Identity Verification

About 17.6 million Americans suffered incidents of identity theft in 2014 according to Transunion, and internationally there are 40 million lost or stolen travel documents currently being tracked by Interpol. Identity verification for a subtenant is important because it allows you to make sure that your applicant isn't using a stolen identity to cover up their own questionable history.

What are the best ways to check someone's identity yourself? There are lighter and heavier options. We've listed them below, starting with the lightest and easiest method.

Cross Check with Social Media

You can do this yourself without purchasing a third-party service. Look for the person's profiles on social media. Make sure that they have two or three identities that seem to correspond with one another. Then look at their profiles and check to see if they have an amount of friends that feels realistic (a couple hundred is a good benchmark) and that there is some history of information sharing. If it feels like the profile was created in the past few weeks this is a red flag.

Photo ID and Document Authentication

You can ask to see a government-issued photo ID and match it to the person using a photo that they take of them selves with the picture next to their head. This is relatively easy to do and the security risk for a subtenant is less serious. This method of verification is not fool-proof, most notably because the identification itself could be forged, but if you use it in combination with an addition verification method then you will be on the safer side.

Knowledge-Based Authentication

Most background checking services use this method to verify identity. They ask challenge questions about personal details, social security number, birthday, and address to confirm appropriate knowledge for that identity and cross check it with private and public records like transaction history, property records or marketing data.

To check an applicant's identity at this level of security you'll need to use a third-party service.

Rental History

When a renter doesn't pay rent or does something else that warrants eviction or a similar legal action, records of this court action can be searched at any point. You can find out before you accept a tenant if their name has been associated with any of these records:

  • Tenant judgment for possession and money
  • Unlawful detainers
  • Tenant judgments for rent
  • Failure to pay rent
  • Writs and warrants of eviction

The Flip background report, provided by Transunion, cross checks one of the largest evictions databases subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, with more than 25 million eviction records. For obvious reasons, you may not want to accept a subtenant who has been evicted previously.

Criminal History

Nearly a third of Americans—100 million people in all—have a criminal record, and an additional 650,000 are released from prison each year. You can find out if your applicant has been arrested primarily by using a service that searches for them in national criminal databases, sex offender list, and global terrorist lists. This will surface any past convictions involving violence, theft, sexual or substance abuse, fraud and property damage.

As of 2016, blanket rejections of applicants based on the fact that they have a criminal record violates the Fair Housing Act. If you reject a lease due to criminal history then you are required to provide them with notice in writing. For this reason we recommend that you focus on identity verification and an applicant's financial viability when decide whether or not to sign a sublease with them.

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


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