Behind the Scenes: Unraveling the Depth of Apartment Background Checks

Background checks and screening reports have become standard for most apartment rental applications with both small mom and pop landlords and your larger corporate apartment overlords. But how deep and extensive is the information property managers review and does it really matter? Getting a transparent understanding can help applicants better prepare for applying at an apartment that will approve them versus one that won’t. You definantly don’t want to be denied 3x and spend over $400 on application fees like some clients that have reached out and complained about their ordeal.

Landlords utilize third-party services to investigate an applicant’s history. Some checks go surface-level and may not actually verify previous rental history while others probe deeper across numerous categories from credit reports to criminal records to rental references. Further still, some will only look back 2 years for evictions and broken leases. We will explore key areas that these screening companies assess as soon as you hit “submit” for your online rental application no matter where you apply.

Identity Verification

Initially, consumer reporting agencies authenticate personal identifiers against public databases to ensure the applicant is who they claim. This includes:

  • Full Legal Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number

Cross-referencing your SSN helps confirm identity and also pulls associated credit files for evaluation and if your credit file is to thin, they’ll want to make a copy of your actual social security number to verify who you say you are.

Income Verification

As many apartments require monthly earnings meeting 2.5-3.5x the rental rate, confirmation of income is also standard. This may include:

  • Current Employer Name
  • Employment Status
  • Length of Employment
  • Salary/Pay Rate
  • Payment Frequency (hourly, weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly)

Landlords often request recent pay stubs and may directly contact your workplace to validate employment details. If you recently or just started at a position, most often these screening companies will accept an “offer letter” from your employer to calculate your earnings and utilize that to screen your application. If you work for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash or another gig service, you’ll need to be prepared to provide 12 months bank statements and/or taxes to show proof of your self employed income over time.

If you are employed and receive commission some communities may require you to provide a notarized letter from your employer that details how much you earned in the last 30-60 days since commission isn’t guaranteed income like your hourly wage.

Credit History Analysis

Assessing creditworthiness makes up a major chunk of background screening for those looking to move into an Austin apartment complex. Consumer reports will summarize account information over the last 7 years including:

  • Current credit card/loan balances
  • Evictions
  • Broken Lease
  • Property Debt
  • Payment history
  • Collections
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax liens
  • Judgments
  • Late payments
  • Hard credit inquiries

The full credit picture reflects how reliably applicants historically managed financial obligations which creates a profile or acceptable or unacceptable risk profile based on the apartment community’s minimum criteria.

If you don’t know your credit score, many people turn to to check out their score however you should know they use a different scoring model than the screening companies. More often than note, Credit Karma has shown scores that on average are 20-30 points higher than the actual credit score screening companies will use.

To get the most accurate data, download the Experian credit app or pull your free score and report from

Criminal History

Another comprehensive piece is searching county and state-level criminal records spanning misdemeanors to serious felony convictions. Typical checks go back 7 years or longer for more severe offenses which is why it’s important to work with an apartment locator that can guide you to communities that are willing to consider an applicant based on how long and what type of felony shows up on your record. I bet you didn’t know some communities will even look back 100 years!

Rental History

Equally important, landlords want confirmation that applicants previously adhered to lease agreements and obligations. Screening an applicant digs up:

  • Former property names/locations
  • Dates of occupancy
  • Lease conformance
  • Late rent payments
  • Property damage
  • Complaints against the tenant
  • Prior evictions
  • Collections or property debt from previous landlords

If available, references from previous landlords also guide decisioning. Regardless of your rental history it’s important to know that some property management companies don’t actually call to verify your information. If you’ve had late payments or disagreements with a landlord and are concerned about what they might disclose to a rental verification company reach out and let your Austin apartment locator help guide you to communities that won’t verify your rental history over the phone.

Driving Records

For properties with parking spaces or garages, driving history reports may be incorporated into your tenant profile and reviewed for assessing tickets, accidents, DUIs and license/insurance status. In fact, I bet you didn’t know a DUI or DWI could even be reported on your background as a felony!

As you can see, tenant screening investigations can be quite exhaustive in pulling records from various specialty databases which is why you want an apartment locator on your side to advocate for how awesome of a tenant you’ll be! The in-depth research done by each community when they receive your application allows property managers to make informed tenant selections thereby reducing risk for the community they manage. Being aware what these reports entail helps applicants better anticipate areas they may wish to improve upon before hitting that submit button with their rental application.

Options to Dispute Inaccurate Findings

With so many data sources aggregated into tenant screening reports, inaccuracies can occasionally occur. This may negatively represent an applicant unfairly however the Fair Credit Reporting Act ensures you can dispute flawed findings by:

  • Requesting a copy of your full screening report from the landlord to identify mistakes
  • Notifying the consumer reporting agency in writing of disputed items
  • Providing supporting documentation proving the inaccuracy
  • The agency must investigate within 30 days and delete unverifiable entries
  • Landlords must provide contact info of the screening provider used if a dispute is submitted

Leveraging these protections is important for upholding your tenant rights and correcting the record to ensure you get that dreamy apartment you’ve had on your mind.

Are Certain Information Sources Off Limits?

Tenant consent via a signed rental application form enables landlords to access in-depth history like credit reports and criminal records. However inquiries are still bound by legal limitations including:

  • Discrimination – Reports cannot factor gender, race, religion, familial status, or disability. These characteristics are irrelevant.
  • Medical – Health histories or conditions may not be investigated without applicant agreement.
  • Bank Accounts/Assets – Rental decisions focus on ability to pay rent, not total wealth.
  • Social Media – Generally off limits unless concerning public threats tied to documented handles.

While screening is comprehensive, it avoids overreach violating fair housing laws.

Preparing for Deep Background Investigations

The breadth of background checks means applicants should proactively prepare by:

  • Reviewing personal credit reports in advance at
  • Resolving any collection disputes and payment plan misrepresentations
  • Gathering previous landlord contact information and references
  • Explaining upfront any prior convictions or evictions needing context
  • Double checking reports for errors as soon as received

Putting best foot forward requires understanding precisely what records landlords evaluate in order to get approved for an apartment in Austin. With the extensive picture background checks paint, being proactive enables applicants to get ahead of any potential snags early.

If You are Worried about What’s on Your Credit or Background Before Applying to an Apartment Contact Ross, the Locator Boss to Discuss Your Situation at 512-320-4599

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