Financial Advice

Renting an apartment? Be prepared for a background check

You’re about to rent an apartment. You’ve saved for your security deposit and lined up a moving truck. But have you checked your credit report? Landlords may, so you should too. If a landlord does a background check, here are some things to know about your rights.

Landlords can check your credit, criminal history, and even your rental history. They may ask your permission but they’re not required to. So, if you know you’ll be looking for a new place to live – or if you’re about to renew your lease – then here are a few things you can do:

  • Go to annualcreditreport.com to check your credit. That way, you can fix any errors before a landlord sees them.
  • Give the landlord your correct full name—first, middle, and last—and date of birth. This helps make sure the landlord gets information on the right person. 
  • If you have a criminal history or previous housing court actions, gather any paperwork showing how the action was resolved in case you need to fix errors.

Some landlords might say not to apply if you have a criminal record. That could be discrimination. If that happens to you or if you think that a landlord illegally discriminated against you for another reason, such as your race or gender, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development

What if a landlord refuses to rent to you or charges you more because of something in a background check? Then you have rights:

  • The landlord must give you notice of the action – orally, in writing or electronically.
  • The notice must give you contact information for the company that supplied the report.
  • The notice must tell you about your rights to correct inaccurate information and to get a free copy of the report if you ask for it within 60 days of the landlord’s decision.

You should obtain your free report, fix any errors, and have the company that supplied the report give the corrected report to the landlord. Tell the landlord about the mistake, too. For more information on background reports and your rights, check out the Summary of Rights.

If you think a landlord or property manager violated your rights – or anyone else’s – when using a background check, report it to the FTC. And if you’re a landlord who wants to do the right thing, check out Using Consumer Reports: What Landlords Need to Know.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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