Everything You Need to Know About Tenant Criminal Reports

Research shows that 1 out of 3 young Americans have been arrested. While it’s important to know that not every arrest results in a charge or conviction, a landlord should always include a criminal report – also referred to as a background check – as part of their tenant screening process.

Until a few years ago, landlords could set their screening policies for potential tenants with criminal histories. But in 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a full-length memo directing landlords on how to handle prospective tenants’ criminal background checks. This post looks at a landlord’s legal jurisdictions when conducting tenant screening via criminal reports without violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

How are Criminal Reports Kept?

Criminal records were once kept in handwritten and typed files that were stored in county criminal courts. Over time, the government introduced modern databases to store this information. There are several levels of criminal record databases available today. These include:

  • Local and county level database – This is the first database storage. It includes court records, police records, and department of correction records of arrested or convicted felons within a county.
  • Statewide repositories – Each state has criminal records information reported from county police, criminal courts, and department of corrections stored in repositories.
  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC) – States report the criminal information in their repositories to the NCIC. This organization stores criminal records in the Interstate Identification Index (III) database.

Broadening the search to the nationwide criminal database is better than relying on county searches. This is because the nationwide database might detect records that would not be present in county or state records.

How Do Credit Agencies Get Tenant Criminal Records?

When local agencies report criminal records to state repositories, the state shares this information with the federal government, which stores the records in the federal database. Landlords can access the database via online tenant screening services and so can the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

What are the Limitations to Searching Criminal Reports?

There are various limitations to searching for tenant criminal reports via state and federal databases.

On the state level, limitations include:

Different Repository Regulations

Which crimes are reported to the state repositories is regulated by each individual state. In states where reporting criminal information is voluntary, there may be missing records in state repositories.

Missing Information

Most state repositories contain criminal records from about 20% of counties. So chances are, some information may not be available in the state repository. If it is, it may be incomplete with only half the information.

On the Federal level, limitations include:

Limited Content

Data from some states and counties may not be available to people in certain jurisdictions. Some states attempt to protect personal information by withholding key information about their people from the public.

Outdated Information

Another negative aspect of nationwide searches is that federal databases may not be current. A search may find some criminal cases that have been expunged, but still show in the database.

Strict FCRA Requirements

FCRA requires landlords not to solely base their decision on whether to take in prospective tenants or not on the information they obtain from the tenant screening test. If a landlord decides not to take in a tenant, they must provide them with a letter specifying the reason for the adverse action.

Stay informed on New Laws That Limit How Landlords Can Use Criminal Report as They Arise

Being a landlord means understanding what the law does, and doesn’t allow you to do. Tenants have special protection from wrongful eviction, harassment, and discrimination. Therefore, it is important to keep in touch with HUD guidelines through their website to know any existing or new laws.

Our tenant screening service can help you find a tenants’ criminal reports. With the right tenant, you can save you and other tenants’ years worth a lot of trouble.

Please note that this is not legal advice. If you have questions any specific legal questions surrounding criminal reports and how you may use them, your lawyer should be able to answer those.

Rental Property Damage and What You Can Do to Protect Your Investment

When you invest your hard-earned money into real estate, you’ll want to make sure you protect that investment. Part of that process is educating yourself on what could eat into your profits. One of the most significant profit-eaters is rental property damage. There’s good news here. Some property damage is entirely preventable. For the damage that is out of your control, there are ways to mitigate the cost. Let’s dive into what causes damage and how to protect your rental investment.

Causes of Damage

There are three main categories of property damage. Each category has different attributes that change how you should respond to the situation. 

Damage Caused by Tenants

You would think that damage caused by tenants would be the top cause of property damage. While they are the ones spending the most time in the unit, most tenants want to feel like they live in a home and they aren’t trying to devalue it by punching holes in the wall. However, accidents do happen, and damage is damage, whether accidental or not. 

Damaged Caused By a Third Party

Although it is rare, it is possible that your property is damaged by a third party, including strangers and people you thought you could trust. One example is damage caused by a burglar trying to break into the home; this damage is usually exterior as long as they don’t make it too far into the house. Another example of third-party damage is a handyperson causing damage through faulty repairs or an accident.

Damage Caused By Nature

Damaged caused by nature can be broken down further into natural disasters like storms and animal damage like termites. The most common cause of property damage overall is wind, but hail, flooding, and fire are all close seconds. 

How to Protect Your Property

There are many ways to protect your property from damage; these are just a few ideas to get you started. 

Insurance

Insurance isn’t going to prevent damage from occurring, but the right insurance will give you peace of mind that your repairs are covered. 

Surveillance

Surveillance is tricky for landlords because you can’t just spy on your tenants, but sometimes surveillance is okay. For instance, cameras outside the house will hopefully prevent break-ins. Work with your tenants to find the best compromise for this solution.

Respond Before it Gets Worse

Prevent a small problem from growing out of proportion by dealing with it immediately. Here are a few examples:

  • Kill mold before it can spread
  • Fumigate if pests are found
  • Fix minor leaks before they can create permanent water damage

Ensure That Safety Equipment is Accessible

A lot of property damage can be prevented if your tenants have the right equipment at their disposal. For instance, every property should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen to put out cooking fires. Sump pumps, smoke detectors, and GFCI outlets are other examples of equipment houses may need to prevent or reduce the amount of damage that can happen. 

Route Water Away from the House

Water damage can be devastating. It can also, unfortunately, go undetected for a long time and continue to cause damage.

Your property should have multiple ways to route water away from the house. The last thing you want is a sinkhole eating up your property because water has been draining into the foundation for years. 

Regular Inspection and Maintenance

It cannot be stressed enough that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure when it comes to property management. Part of being a property owner is ensuring that your investment is in good shape, which means that you should regularly inspect it for damage or potential problems that will cause damage. Regular maintenance such as cleaning the gutters and winterizing the property before it gets too cold are also easy ways to prevent damage.

Make Sure You Have the Right Tenants

You may not be able to prevent a hail storm, but you can know that you have trusted tenants. Our tenant screening service will help you make an informed decision when choosing your tenants. Once you have the right tenants, give yourself even more protection by requiring renters insurance to cover the cost of any damages or stolen property.

Not all damage is preventable, but having a plan and responding quickly is the next best solution when damage occurs. 

Lucrative Landlord Locales

If you’re thinking about investing in a new rental property (or two) there are several factors to consider. Perhaps one of the most critical factors and the first decision to make is where your property will be. This can have a substantial impact on being able to attract tenants and what rent you will be able to set. It’s important to do your homework on each location that you are considering. Here are five hot spots where rentals are in demand and command top dollar.

  1. Boise, Idaho

Home to rivers, mountains, canyons, deserts, and lakes, Boise is popular with those who love the outdoors. As coastal cities continue to grow and become more expensive, people are moving inland to find jobs and more affordable places to live.

With population and job growth triple the national average, low unemployment rate, and year-over-year rental growth, Boise could be a great place for you to invest in rental property. The Boise housing market was ranked as the #1 in the U.S.by Realtor.com in 2020 but slipped to #4 in their 2021 list. The average rent for an apartment in Boise City is $1,508 and 43% of properties in Boise City are rental properties. Best of all, Idaho has one of the cheapest landlord insurance rates, which means lower costs for your business.

  1. Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee remains one of the top locations to own rental properties. Located along the Mississippi River, the city is home to Elvis’ Graceland, the Blues Hall of Fame, and a bevy of tourist attractions.

There is also a high population of millennials, meaning that rentals are very popular. With Fortune 500 companies like FedEx and International Paper and AutoZone calling Memphis home, the job market is thriving. The average rent for an apartment in Memphis is $967 and 43% of property in Memphis is rental property.

  1. Tampa, Florida

Previously we listed Miami as one of the most lucrative landlord locales and, whilst it is still a great area to invest in, Tampa also deserves a look.

Tampa is an attractive metropolitan area and one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations. In addition, it is a popular relocation spot for retirees, providing many short-term rental opportunities. The average rent for an apartment in Tampa is $1,647 and 44% of property in Tampa is rental property. Also of note, a perk of owning property in Florida is that the real estate property tax rate is only 0.98%, compared to 1.08% nationally.

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale is a favored spot for Arizona State University professors and graduate students to live, as well as for retired Northerners to visit during the colder months. With more than 76,000 students (plus the faculty that teaches them), landlords in Scottsdale have a steady stream of tenants interested in renting, distancing themselves a bit from Tempe’s undergrad-saturated communities.

And it’s not just students, Scottsdale is also an emerging tech market with companies such as GoDaddy, Yelp, Paypal, and Indeed.com all opening offices in Scottsdale. The average rent for an apartment in Scottsdale is $1,914 and 44% of property in Scottsdale is rental property.

  1. Dallas, Texas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say, and in Dallas that includes the number of renters.

Dallas has a substantial single, upwardly-mobile professional population. This demographic is a landlord’s dream as young professionals tend to be responsible and reliable tenants.Things aren’t slowing down either with the population expected to double in the next 15 years. One of the reasons for this population growth is the large and diverse job market with leading industries in technology, financial services, and defense. The average rent for an apartment in Dallas is $1,383 and 43% of property in Dallas is rental property.

These hot markets are full of renters anxious to sign on the dotted line and find their next home.

How To Repair Warped Hardwood Floors

Nothing is worse than walking across a wood floor and having it cause a stumble.

Even though the change in the flooring is subtle, it is there and it can cause an injury.

Take a look at the floor and you will see that the boards have actually risen or sunk just a little bit instead of being flat.

This means that you’ve got a warped floor.

Knowing how to repair warped wood floors first means being able to scope out the size of the problem that exists.

Wood naturally expands and contracts over time with changing environmental conditions and this can cause nails and glue to work their way loose.

You might just need to take down some loose boards.

On the other hand, you might also need to have a professional contractor come in to fix the problem.

 

1. You’ve Got a Small Wood Warp

Many small rises in the floor can be solved by warping the floor back into place.

Get the wood wet and then place a heavy object on top of it.

Make sure you walk around the heavy object in the middle of the floor while you’re doing this.

In the span of a few days, the floor will likely become flat once again and you won’t have had to do anything.

If there’s a squeak in the board when pressure is placed on it, then this may mean that the nails holding it down or the glue have worked their way loose.

After straightening out the board, tack it down with a nail or some glue and you’ll have solved the problem.

If your wood floor is cupped instead of crowned: If you have a dip instead of a rise, then a latex wood filler of the same color can help to solve your flooring issue.

Apply it where the cupping has happened and allow it to dry.

Then sand down the wood filler until it is flush with your current flooring. Paint or stain as needed to match.

2. You’ve Got a Large Wood Warp

Sometimes entire sections of a wood floor will begin to warp.

If there is more than just one board affected, then it is often easier to just replaced the boards that have warped rather than try to flatten them out.

Take up the affected boards and replace it with the same flooring that has been cut to size.

You’ll then need to secure the repair, paint it, or stain it so that a uniform look can be achieved.

If you have gaps in your flooring after replacing the warped wood: Use a latex floor filler if you have a gap left in your repair that is 0.25 inches or less wide.

This spreads easily along the floor and must be applied before you sand it.

Gaps that are larger than 0.25 inches need epoxy wood filler. Apply that after the finish coat.

 

3. You’ve Got a Massive Wood Warp

Sometimes the entire wood floor has become uneven.

This can happen because of the natural aging process, water damage, or not taking care of the floor over time.

There might also be a problem with the subfloor that is causing the warpage in your hardwood floor.

To fix this kind of problem, the entire floor will need to be taken up to determine where the damage might be.

A good DIY’er can take up an entire wood floor and put down a new one if the subfloor is intact.

If there is damage to the subfloor, however, a bonded flooring contractor is probably a better solution.

You may need to have the joists inspected and there may be other issues involved, including the home shifting, that may be causing the whole floor to warp.

Always remember this one tip: Whether you can classify your wood warp as small, large, or massive, it is always important to identify the source of the warp to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again.

Being proactive about fixing the problem will help to give the hardwood floor a longer, better life so that you don’t have to stumble every again because the flat floor wasn’t as flat as it should be.

Many floors need to be sanded and refinished after a repair.

If this has happened several times already to a floor, then additional cracking may occur.

Not every wood floor is suitable for a repair and refinish.

If you are unsure of the damage the floor has sustained, then knowing how to repair a warped wood floor might mean finding the lowest quality bid from a local contractor.

How Private Are Tenant Screenings? (Part 2)

In the first installment of this series, we started examining the laws and ethics surrounding the information contained in tenant screenings.

In the course of a tenant screening, you and your employees will handle sensitive information.

Handling and relaying that information in an ethical, responsible way can be very difficult.

State-by-State Privacy Laws

As we discuss the legal aspects of handling sensitive information, keep in mind that privacy laws can be different from place to place, and may change as laws are passed and repealed.

If you ever have any questions, it’s always best to do your own research and check with a lawyer.

Federal regulations apply in most states, but some have a more strict legal stance on privacy.

California, Texas, and New York all have added protections under the law.

California Privacy Laws

As a landlord, you need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any state laws that govern the collection, usem and dissemination of nonpublic personal information (NPI) when you run a tenant screening.

NPI includes social security numbers, employment history, and any financial information collected.

If you make a rental decision based on a credit report or a tenant report, you have an obligation to disclose the fact that the rejection was based on these reports and offer the applicant an opportunity to obtain a copy of the report used in the decision.

In California, you can not ask about citizenship status. This is a hot issue in California, so be sure to leave off all questions related to immigration.

Texas Privacy Laws

As another state that prioritizes privacy for their citizens, Texas has also taken a more strict stance on privacy than the federal government.

In Texas, you have the right to know about a company’s privacy policy before they collect your NPI.

As a landlord, you have the right to use the collected information for the specified purpose, but you don’t have the right to resell, reuse, or disseminate the information to third parties.

Essentially, you and in-house employees can use the information to complete the tenant screening, but it should not be shared with affiliates or marketing partners.

Once your use for the information is complete, it should be destroyed.

In this case, complete would refer to the end of a lease term and after the return of the security deposit to the tenant.

If you have an ongoing business relationship, you should always maintain the tenant file for reference.

New York Privacy Laws

New York treats the information collected on a rental application similarly to California and Texas.

NPI collected for an application is single use only. Tenants sign a document allowing you to use their social security number and other information to collect financial information related to making a rental decision. You may not use or sell the information for any other purpose.

The laws protecting the use of NPI are fairly clear.

Make sure to only provide NPI on a need to know basis, store it in a secure location, destroy data as it becomes unnecessary and stay up to date on changing privacy laws.

With increasing concerns about privacy and the growth of identity theft, states are starting to enact more and more legislation to protect consumer financial information.

Keep track of changes as they occur, so you are always compliant.

If you have any questions about legal issues involved in running a tenant screening, find a local legal professional to help.