Tenant screening is the process by which landlords gather information and make a decision about which applicant should live in their rental property. Average tenant screening costs run from $15 to $50 and can include an applicant’s credit, criminal, and/or eviction histories.
What is a Tenant Screening Report?
A tenant screening report is a type of consumer report generally put together by a tenant screening service. These reports usually contain any or all of the following:
- Credit history
- Criminal background
- Eviction histories
- Other reports, such as a financial profile
Tenant screening reports may contain only local information, usually for a discounted price, or contain full nationwide data. Having a more thorough report can be especially useful if an applicant has recently moved to the area.
How Much Does Tenant Screening Cost?
Tenant screening usually costs around $15 – $50 per applicant, based on how thorough the landlord would like to be. There are services that cost more or less than this, but those are outliers.
Here are a few of the more popular tenant screening reports and their costs:
|Experian Credit Report & Score||$14.95||Credit report|
|AAOA Basic||$19.95||State specific criminal & eviction histories, address history|
|AAOA Basic Credit||$19.95||Credit report|
|Rtenant Enhanced Landlord Rental Eviction History||$20.95||Evictions, liens, civil filings, judgments|
|Rtenant Multicrim Criminal Background Check||$20.95||Nationwide data on felonies, misdemeanors, sex offender status|
|RentPrep Background Check||$21.00||Eviction history, bankruptcies, judgments & liens|
|SmartMove SmartCheck Basic||$24.99||Credit score and national criminal background|
|MyRental Basic||$24.99||Eviction history, nationwide criminal report, previous address history|
|Apartment.com Tenant Screening & Background Checks||$29.00||Credit report, national criminal & eviction history|
|AAOA Red||$29.95||State-specific criminal & eviction histories, address history, credit score|
|MyRental Premium||$34.00||National criminal & eviction history, previous address history, credit report, proprietary SafeRent score|
|AAOA White||$35.95||State-specific criminal & eviction histories, address history, credit score, sex offender & terrorist check|
|SmartMove Full Credit Report||$38.00||Credit report, SSN verification, nationwide criminal & eviction reports, bankruptcies|
|AAOA Blue||$39.95||State-specific criminal & eviction histories, address history, credit score, sex offender & terrorist check, tenant pay option|
|SmartMove SmartCheck Plus||$39.99||Credit report, national eviction & criminal reports|
|SmartMove SmartCheck Premium||$41.99||Credit report, national eviction & criminal reports, income verification|
|AAOA Gold||$49.95||State-specific criminal & eviction histories, address history, credit score, sex offender & terrorist check, tenant pay option, SSN fraud check|
How Much Does it Cost to Check a Tenant’s Credit?
Checking a tenant’s credit can cost anywhere from free to around $20. Usually only a credit score can be obtained for free while full credit reports make up the higher end of the price range.
Pulling a full credit history will give landlords the greatest insight into how likely an applicant will be to pay their rent on time and in full. It’s common for screening services to charge around $20 (such as AAOA’s Basic Credit service for $19.95).
- The consumer’s lenders and creditors, and how much is owed to each – This can include credit cards, mortgage, student loans, and vehicle loans.
- Hard inquiries – Occur when the consumer applies for debt or a monthly service, such as a loan, credit card, or mobile phone contract. These typically stay for two years.
- Bankruptcies – Depending on the type, can stay for either seven or ten years.
- Collections Accounts – Past-due accounts that have been turned over to a collection agency.
Several tenant screening services offer the ability to purchase a credit report, such as:
- AAOA – $14.99 add on to their Red service
- AAOA Basic Credit Service – $19.95 a la carte
- Experian – $14.95 a la carte
- LeaseRunner – $22 a la carte
A credit score, on the other hand, is just a single number that estimates a consumer’s likelihood to pay back debt on time. A higher number (such as 700 or more) indicates the consumer is highly likely to meet their financial obligations, such as rent.
Credit scores can be obtained for free through many services, such as any of the credit bureaus, or sites like NerdWallet and Credit Karma. While a tenant can submit their own credit report, most landlords will choose to pay for a full tenant screening service.
How Much Does it Cost to Check a Tenant’s Eviction History?
Checking a tenant’s eviction history can be done for free or up to $8-$10. The differences in price are because a landlord can pull this data, or they can have a service do it. Also, state-specific data will cost less than national data.
It’s possible to pull a tenant’s eviction history in about five minutes by searching through court cases online, although it’s not free to gather that information in every state. However, online records will rarely have every document filed and every order issued by the court.
You can see this information by visiting the local courthouse, but again, this information is only free to gather in some states.
Also, when deciding on a service for discovering a tenant’s eviction history, pay attention to whether the service will pull nationwide data, or just local & state. The nationwide data typically costs more, but can be helpful in discovering evictions that didn’t happen locally.
There are many services that offer to pull eviction records for you, such as:
- LeaseRunner – $13 a la carte
- AAOA – $7.99 add on to their Red service
- Rtenant Enhanced Landlord Rental Eviction History – $20.95 a la carte
How Much Does it Cost to Check a Tenant’s Criminal Background?
Pulling a tenant’s criminal background usually costs between $10-$20. Cheaper criminal background checks usually cover county or statewide history, while the more expensive nationwide reports generally cost closer to $20.
There are a variety of items that may or may not show up on a criminal background report, depending on the service, such as:
- State & local or nationwide information
- Sex offender status
- Felonies and/or misdemeanors
- Terrorist check
- SSN Fraud
Typically, the more inexpensive services will only pull state & local information, and may only pull either misdemeanors or felonies.
More expensive services may add services to the cost that may not be overly useful. For example, many landlords may not be worried about misdemeanors, or find it highly unlikely to have an applicant show up on a terrorist watch list.
In those cases, be sure to double check everything included instead of selecting the most expensive service.
Here are a few services that offer criminal background checks:
- AAOA – Add on to their Red service. $19.99 for multi-state, $9.99 for state specific, and $14.99 for county criminal check
- Rtenant Enhanced Landlord Rental Eviction History – $20.95 a la carte
- LeaseRunner – $16 a la carte
Who Pays for Tenant Screening Costs?
While property managers can decide how they want to run their rental property, generally the costs for tenant screening are handed off to the applicants themselves in the form of an application fee.
However, it’s worth noting that some states have differing laws about how large of an application fee property managers can charge. For example, New York property managers cannot charge more than $20 per applicant, while in Massachusetts it’s illegal to charge any application fee unless you’re a licensed broker.
However, 42 states do not have a maximum amount for an application fee, and many choose to charge more than the cost of a tenant screening report in order to cover “soft” costs. These can include the property manager’s time it takes to select an applicant.
You should balance the value of charging a higher application fee against potentially turning away good applicants put off by your higher fee.
Are Tenant Screening Costs Worth It?
Property managers should do everything in their power to bring in the best tenants possible. The best tenants:
- Stay for a long time
- Pay rent in full and on time
- Cause much less stress
Of course, you could unpack a lot more from those points, but the idea is that you want to find great tenants who plan to stay in your property for a long time.
You also don’t want just one of those items to be true about your tenant. If you have an amazing tenant, but they leave after just one year, that is going to be expensive in the form of vacancy. The U.S. average for monthly rent has passed $2,000 per month which means not only do you lose that income, but you’re on the hook for the mortgage, if there is one.
On the other hand, the longer you have a tenant that causes you stress or headaches (e.g. doesn’t pay rent in full, damages the property, doesn’t notify you of maintenance issues, etc.), the more costs you’ll incur and the more likely it will lead to an eviction.
With the average eviction costing between $3,500 and $10,000, that’s one of the largest costs you can incur as a property manager.
Tenant screening costs run on average between $15 and $50 per applicant. Even if you need to gather information on several applicants, it’s still much cheaper than having to deal with vacancies and evictions down the road.
Can You Get a Tenant Screening Report for Free?
Yes, it is possible to get a tenant screening report for free. However, it will require you to pull information from a number of different sources.
First, be cautious about how tenant screening services often market their products. Some services offer a direct-to-applicant model, meaning that you’re not involved in the process and the applicants pay the company directly. These services will often market that these services are free.
In reality, these services aren’t truly free—just free for you. There are ways to pull background data that doesn’t cost a landlord or the applicant anything.
Get Credit Reports for Free
Here’s how a landlord can get information about a tenant’s credit:
- Tenant Requests Credit Report – Once per year, anyone can request a copy of their credit report from the three credit bureaus, and then pass this on to the landlord.
- Use a Third Party Service – Some companies offer credit reports with daily or weekly updates for free, such as Credit Karma. A landlord can ask a tenant to sign up for the service and pass along an updated report.
Get Eviction Histories for Free
Here are a few ways you can find out if your tenant has been evicted before for free (or cheap):
- Ask Them on the Rental Application – Many will be honest here, knowing they’re worse off if you pull eviction history and find out they’ve been untruthful.
- Ask a Prior Landlord – You should ask on every application to include a previous landlord as a reference. They can tell you if they had to evict your applicant.
- Online Court Case Search – In most states, evictions are considered part of public record, although it’s not free to pull these records everywhere. Look this up on the state’s court website or the court website located in the same city or county as the rental unit.
- Search Court Cases In-Person – Going to the courthouse will usually give the most complete information, but most will charge a fee.
- Tenant Request Records – Tenants can request their own eviction records once per year for free, and then pass them on to a landlord.
Pull Criminal Background Histories for Free
While some criminal records are sealed from public view, landlords can still pull many criminal court records themselves when screening a tenant. However, each state does have their own regulations which will affect how much information a landlord can gather on their own.
Here’s how to pull criminal background histories:
- Online Court Case Search – Each state has a website for its court, as well as the county and city. In many states, you can search these sites for information regarding the tenant. It’s not always free to pull this information.
- Search Court Cases In-Person – Landlords can visit the local courthouse and search through court records themselves. This service is not always free.
- Google Search – Type in the person’s name and “criminal history records.” Ignore the background check services and see if anything pops up for the tenant.
All told, doing screening yourself will take time and will almost always result in less complete reporting. The nominal costs of using a tenant screening company (and usually selecting their top package) are generally worth it to ensure you have accurate and complete information.
Once your applicant has signed a consent form (usually part of the application process), a tenant screening company can send you reports instantly. This speed helps you not lose applicants to other properties—another reason not to gather reports yourself.
Do All Applicants Need to Be Screened?
There isn’t really a need to pull a full tenant screening report for each applicant, but you should pull a report for each qualified applicant.
Each report you pull takes time and costs money. Even if you’re passing the costs on to your applicant, some states won’t allow you to charge enough to cover the cost of a thorough screening service. You may also want to entice more applicants through a lower application fee, so you may still be on the hook for some of the cost.
The best way to balance cost with being thorough is to have a rigorous pre-screening process.
For example, here are a few things landlords can do to weed out applicants before paying for a tenant screening service:
- Be clear about running thorough background checks on the application and ask if you will find anything.
- Set standards for criminal, credit, and eviction histories. For example, mention in your application that applicants must have no prior evictions, no felonies, and no credit below 600.
- Set a hard-and-fast limit on income requirements, especially with rent to income ratio, and mention this on your application.
- Interview all applicants over the phone.
- Meet with all applicants in person to show the property.
- Call landlords, employers, and personal references. Be thorough in your questioning.
- Ask how many will be living in the unit. Most states have laws in place for tenant-to-bedroom ratios.
With this more stringent screening process, most applicants will naturally weed themselves out. Then, you can weed out many more through talking to references and your applicants.
At this point, ideally you’ll only have a few extremely qualified applicants left. It’s generally worth getting tenant screening reports for each of them.
How Do You Pick a Good Tenant Screening Service?
Deciding which tenant screening service is right for you depends on your situation as a landlord.
Landlords Who Do/Don’t Pass Screening Costs to Tenants
In most cases, landlords will charge an application fee that covers the cost of a tenant screening service, provided they’re in a state that allows them to do this. That means that a landlord usually doesn’t have to worry about fielding the costs for several applicants per vacancy.
Typically, most applicants understand that there’s an application fee, so they won’t balk at a decent price. Generally, picking a more expensive service that includes at a minimum credit checks, eviction histories, and criminal backgrounds is the way to go. Most of these will fall in the $35-$50 range.
However, some landlords may hesitate at subjecting their applicants to high-cost services because they are worried it could turn some away. Also, some states either disallow application fees or cap it at $20 or less.
In these situations, the landlord may find themselves forced to consider costs more heavily. Ideally, landlords will always choose the most thorough service, and should do so if their cash flow allows them too. Otherwise, decide which pieces of a screening check are most important and pick a service that covers just those aspects.
Landlords in Areas of Differing Risk
If a landlord owns a unit in a highly dangerous neighborhood, that creates more complicated factors when deciding how important background checks are.
In some cases, landlords may find that all of their applicants have negative marks on their background checks. Some landlords may see this as a reason to not order any screening reports.
However, it may become even more important in these cases to do thorough screening because of the likelihood of violent crimes or checkered eviction histories. Perhaps the person with the least bad criminal record is the best tenant for your area.
In these areas, landlords could even consider foregoing a credit check to save some money.
On the other hand, in lower risk areas, criminal background checks and eviction histories may feel less important to a landlord. They may decide to only pull a credit report to make sure the applicant has a history of paying off debts.
Best practice is to always get the most complete report, but when that’s not possible, figuring in the risk of the area can help you decide what’s most important.
Some areas, like Oakland, don’t allow for landlords to pull criminal background checks at all. Be sure to know the local regulations before you begin ordering/gathering reports.
Landlords of Luxury Units vs Inexpensive Units
When renting out a luxury unit, the application fee is so negligible that landlords may as well order full reports. After all, if rent is $5k a month, a $50 report won’t deter qualified applicants.
In lower end units, that $50 could deter some of your best applicants. If at all possible, you could try lowering that to $20 or so and then pay the difference to still get good screening reports.