A criminal background report is an important aspect of tenant screening. This report provides you with the information about a potential tenant's conviction and arrest record so you can make educated decisions on whether to accept their rental application. However, criminal background reports are fallible and sometimes don't show the whole picture of a tenant's criminal history. Here are a few reasons why the report may be missing information.
1. Unreported or Inaccurate Data
Information gets lost in the shuffle between the courthouse and reporting agencies, so some arrest and conviction records never make it to public records, therefore to a criminal background report. This can easily be the case if your prospective tenant lived in a rural area with limited resources; court clerks may not have electronic records or the infrastructure to properly report information.
Record inaccuracy is another frustrating situation to deal with. Tenants with common names or those who share a name with a parent may run into a situation where their criminal records are reported on someone else's name; they may even have arrests on their record that aren't theirs. In this situation, try to find information that may prove or disprove that the record is actually your prospective tenant, such as the tenant holding a job elsewhere while the criminal record claims they were in prison.
2. A Background Check Service Limits Itself to Easily Accessible Public Records
Some background checks only look through public records that are electronically available and don't require a significant amount of searching to uncover. Other criminal background reports go more in depth on information but limit themselves to a specific courthouse or geographic location. In general, the more information the screening tool polls when looking up criminal background information, the more likely you are to discover potentially overlooked records.
3. Expunged Records
This is a common reason why the criminal background report may not reveal the complete history of a tenant. Expungement is a process that seals a criminal record, typically after any fines have been paid or time in prison has been served. Records can also be expunged if they occurred when the person was a minor. The expunging process varies from region to region and is generally offered for less severe crimes, such as juvenile crimes, non-violent offenses, and drug-related cases. When the criminal record is sealed, it is no longer part of the public record and the information is not available through a typical background check.
In some cases, expungement is a retroactive admission that your prospective tenant should not have been convicted at all, called a certificate of actual innocence. The legal system is not perfect, so having the option to expunge these types of records helps innocent individuals get their lives back on track. Tenants who have expunged records are not legally required to disclose if they were ever arrested or convicted.
While criminal records are useful as one aspect of tenant screening, you don't always have the full tenant picture. Utilizing multiple tenant screening tools helps you identify potential red flags, even if the criminal record itself is missing certain pieces of information.
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