5 Min Read | July 1, 2022

What Is a Tenant Credit Check?

A landlord may run a credit check on a potential tenant to see how well they handle money. Tenant screening may include rental history, income, and background checks.

Tenant Credit Check

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.


Many landlords thoroughly screen potential tenants’ credit reports, rental history, criminal records, employment, income, and more.

Tenant credit checks and screening report costs are usually paid by the applicants, not the landlord-to-be.

Landlords are legally required to let the tenant know if a credit check or screening report was used to deny a rental application.

If you’re looking for a new apartment, the search can be time-consuming. And when you’ve finally found the right spot, you might be surprised to learn things aren’t always as simple as signing the lease. A landlord may first want to run a tenant credit check – or even a more detailed tenant screening report – to determine if you’re a responsible applicant.

What Is a Tenant Screening Report?

A tenant screening report is like a credit report, but with added data that’s relevant for renting. A typical report may not only look at financial history and confirm the identity of a prospective tenant, but might also check rental history, record of on-time payments, evictions, or any other legal actions from previous landlords. Landlords use tenant screening reports and tenant credit checks to make leasing decisions.


Tenant credit checks and screening reports are often pulled from one of the main three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Another option is use of a private, third-party tenant screening agency, which may provide more in-depth reports, like background checks and criminal history. Like traditional credit checks, tenant credit checks and screening reports must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.1

How Do Landlords Obtain Tenant Screening Reports?

Once a tenant finds an apartment they’d like to apply for, they contact the lessor – usually a landlord or rental agency. If the lessor plans to run a tenant credit check or screening report, they should initiate the process, which may entail:


  • Getting the tenant’s information. Landlords will generally need your name, address, and Social Security number to run a check. Bear in mind that a landlord cannot access your credit report or tenant screening information without “permissible purpose.” This usually entails either asking the prospective tenant for written permission, or certifying that the report will be used only for housing purposes.2
  • Paying for the report. The cost of the report – often around $20–$403 – is usually passed on to the applicant, but some states regulate those fees. In some cases, landlords may allow tenants to provide their own copy of their credit report.
  • Running the report. Once the landlord has a copy of the report, they’ll use it to help decide whether to approve your application.


If unsure about what to expect, you may want to consider consulting a local landlord-tenant attorney to learn about your state’s laws regarding tenant screening and credit checks.

What Information Does a Rental Screening Report Include?

A tenant credit check is typically similar to a standard credit report, but a landlord may incorporate an additional screening process. For instance, renters can usually expect tenant screening to include information more relevant to vetting a prospective tenant than someone looking to get a home or auto loan. Information may include:


  • Personal identification: Many reports will confirm identity by checking your Social Security number, address, and employment information.
  • Credit score: A commonly accepted minimum credit score to rent an apartment is about 650. Some landlords, especially those in competitive housing markets, may require a higher credit score.
  • Credit history: Landlords might check credit history to review factors like payment history and existing debts to evaluate how likely a tenant is to make rent payments on time. A history of late payments, a high debt-to-income ratio, or negative marks like delinquencies, for example, might signal an unreliable tenant.
  • Public records: These may involve records like past evictions or bankruptcies, tax liens, and civil judgments. A landlord might see prior instances of legal jeopardy as an indication that the tenant won’t make rent payments on time or in full. Note that some states prohibit the use of eviction lawsuit information when making a rental determination.4
  • Background checks: A background check is often used to look into a prospective tenant’s history to confirm they are who they say they are and that they’re a safe candidate. Background checks might show past convictions or other relevant alerts. Note that the Fair Housing Act offers protections for renters with a criminal record. Individuals can contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development for more information.5


If you expect any adverse information to appear on a tenant credit check or screening report, you may want to discuss these items with the landlord before officially applying. Providing background information ahead of time can contextualize what appears in the report. Or, if the landlord has strict requirements, they may let you know if your time and money would be better served looking for a different apartment with different requirements.

What You Can Do Before You Apply for an Apartment

Before you fill out a rental application, check your credit report to ensure accuracy. If you spot errors, be sure to dispute them before applying, as they can negatively affect your chances of approval.


In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends asking potential landlords a few questions about their rental screening process.6 For example: What information will be included on their report? Will I have the opportunity to explain any red flags, or will certain adverse marks guarantee application denial? How much will the report cost, and who covers the fee?


Since many landlords require prospective tenants pay for such reports, it may be wise to avoid applying to more apartments than necessary, as it can save you money. Furthermore, some tenant credit checks may be hard credit inquiries, which can temporarily lower your credit score.


To help boost your chances of approval, now may be a good time to do some financial housekeeping. For example, try to minimize credit card debt or overdue payments before applying. If your credit score is lacking, there may be additional options worth discussing with a potential landlord. For example, getting a co-signer, offering a larger deposit, or, if you have no reported credit history, showing a paper trail of financial responsibility could all help boost your chances of approval.

The Takeaway

Tenant credit checks are a common part of the rental application process. Landlords typically look at information such as credit score, credit history, public records, and income to help determine whether an applicant seems like they’ll be a responsible tenant. Before applying for an apartment, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and dispute any inaccuracies.

Ryan Lynch

Ryan Lynch is a freelance writer, educator, and musician whose work concentrates on finance, STEM, and the arts.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

Related Articles

6 Ways to Help Build Your Credit


Learn about the credit-building benefits of reviewing and "cleaning" errors on your credit report, managing credit utilization, and removing late payments.


Tell me more

How Is a Credit Score Calculated?


Understanding the factors that affect your credit score can help you improve your score over time. Here’s what you need to know about how credit scores are calculated.


Tell me more

Does Applying for Multiple Loans Impact Your Credit Score?


Applying for loans can cause a drop in your credit score, but rate-shopping for multiple loans in a short time span may prevent additional credit dips.


Tell me more

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and intended for U.S. residents and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.