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How to Check a Subletter'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 applicant is who they say they are, doesn't have a criminal past that would concern you, and has a record of being a conscientious tenant. There are different services that can handle all or part of this for you. For instance, 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.

1. Verify your applicant’s identity

About 17.6 million Americans dealt with incidents of identity theft in 2014 according to Transunion. 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? We've listed them below, starting with the simplest and least intensive methods.

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, 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.

Authenticate their photo ID

You can ask an applicant to take a picture of themselves holding their government-issued photo ID to make sure it’s a match. This is relatively easy to do, and the security risk for a subtenant is low. This method of verification is not foolproof, since the ID itself could be forged—we recommend you use it in combination with another verification method.

Use a third-party service

Most background checking services use knowledge-based authentication to verify someone’s identity. They ask challenging questions about a person’s social security number, birthday, address, and other personal details to confirm appropriate knowledge for that identity and cross-check it with private and public records like transaction history, property records, or marketing data.

2. Check to see if they have a history of eviction or unpaid rent

When a renter doesn't pay rent—or does something else that warrants eviction or a similar legal action—it creates a legal record that 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 previously evicted.

3. Look into their criminal record

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 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 violate the Fair Housing Act. Instead, the government suggests that your screening policy takes into account what the crime was and when it happened. 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 deciding 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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