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Background Check

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You may be asked to provide the name and telephone number of previous landlords. Either the landlord or a reference-checking agency may contact previous landlords or other parties you list on the application to check your rental payment history and compliance with lease provisions.

Your criminal history is also a factor in your ability to rent. It is becoming more common for landlords to conduct background checks to determine if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime. If you do have a criminal record, advise the landlord at the time you complete the rental application. She may be more sympathetic is she hears your side of the story before completing the background check.

I am in the process of a rental application and the landlord is requiring a $35 background check fee. Is this legal?

Yes. Laws allow landlords to charge prospective tenants for the cost of a background check. Landlords are not permitted to make a profit on the fee, however.

Can a landlord perform a background check without my authorization?

Yes, but only to the extent the information is public and available. For instance, any person can check court records to determine if you have been convicted of a crime, involved in a civil lawsuit, such as a divorce or a bankruptcy.

A greater amount of information is available publicly than you might realize. For example, records of real estate owned by an applicant are public as are some business filings. The military may disclose name, rank, salary, duty assignments, awards and duty status without consent. Driving records are not confidential, and if the landlord has a driver's license number, he can obtain information from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. School and medical records, however, are not released without your express written authorization.

Police records and court records are two different things. Court records are public records and accessible. Police departments, however, typically release records only to the individual involved in the report. For example, informal and unauthorized requests for police records using the applicant's name will be denied. On the other hand, requests for calls to a certain address (an applicant's former apartment, for example) are often approved.