Should You Background Check Your Landlord as a Renter?

As a new tenant, you might expect a landlord to do a background check on you. What you might not know is that if your landlord is an individual, it is a good idea to do a landlord background check.

After all, this person will have access to your home and is someone you will have to deal with during the time you live in your home. 

Background checks have become relatively inexpensive and easy to do. By taking a little time to do a background check, you will know if your landlord has a criminal history, tax liens, and you can also check the records on the property you will be renting. It would be unfortunate to pay deposits and move into your new home, only to realize it was already in foreclosure. 

If you do not want to pay for a background check, you should at least do a little research of your own for due diligence. Having a difficult landlord or a landlord in financial trouble can make your life difficult as a tenant. The following steps will help you make an informed decision.

  • Check public records. Checking public records is relatively easy and can reveal red flags about your landlord and the property you will be renting. Is there a recent bankruptcy, tax lien, or pending lawsuits that involve your landlord? If so, you should be wary. You should search property records as well, as those will tell you if there are any liens directly against the property. If there is a lien against the property, heed the warning and look for another place to rent.
  • Talk to your new neighbors. Neighbors are usually a wealth of information about the property. Ask blunt questions like how long tenants typically stay and if they have heard of tenants having issues with the landlord? Frequent turnover of tenants can indicate either a problem with the landlord or with the property itself. If you cannot speak directly to your neighbors, consider a neighborhood app, like NextDoor. These apps are designed to connect neighbors and post information about crimes in the neighborhood, missing pets, and information about neighborhood events. The neighborhood apps can help you connect with others in your community before you even move in. 
  • Look for reviews or complaints. If your landlord operates under a property management company or is an LLC, you can check the Better Business Bureau for complaints filed. If it is an individual, your best bet is to talk to former tenants. Utilize social media to connect with prior tenants of the landlord, or ask the landlord to provide references from previous tenants. 
  • Use Google and social media to find out as much as possible about your landlord. You don’t need your landlord’s life history, but you do need to know if the landlord is frequently involved in legal issues. 
  • Carefully inspect the appearance of the property you are considering renting. Does the property appear well-maintained? Renters can be tough on a property, but have all significant issues been repaired? Is the outside of the property clean and the landscaping maintained? Are there any visible signs of neglect? These things should be red flags that the landlord does not take the time, or does not have the resources to upkeep the property. 

Take the time to talk to your landlord.

Ask questions, and make a note of the answers. Some questions you will want to ask your landlord before signing a lease include:

  • How long is the lease term, and what penalties will be incurred if the lease is broken?
  • Are any utilities included in the costs of the rent?
  • Ask about any policies regarding pets, even if you do not currently have a pet. You may decide you want one at some point, and you need to understand upfront if pets are allowed.
  • Ask about the maintenance policy and what to do if there is an emergency. Know who to call if a pipe burst in the middle of the night. 

If you have followed the above suggestions and decided to move forward, do not forget that signing a lease is a contract and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Read the lease agreement thoroughly, including the fine print. If there is any part of the lease that you do not understand, ask questions, and make sure you receive a satisfactory answer.