When you’re considering a tenant’s application to lease one of your units, there are lots of factors to take into consideration. One powerful tool that you may be able to use — at no cost! — to predict your tenant’s ability to pay rent on time lies in housing court public records. You may be able to complete a free eviction check to learn more about your prospective renter.
What an Eviction Check Does
An eviction check allows you, as a landlord, to delve into a prospective renter’s leasing history. A database of eviction public records will provide extremely relevant information — such as whether your potential lessee has ever been evicted from a previous rental, and why.
This information is available because a formal eviction requires a landlord to obtain a civil judgment in small claims court against the tenant. These judgments are part of public record for a certain amount of time after the judgment is filed—which means that, as long as you know where to dig, you can find them and potentially use that information to your advantage.
As it represents an added step in the already lengthy leasing process, you may be tempted to skip searching eviction records. However, there are some pretty good reasons to complete a free eviction check.
For one: As the primary reason tenants are evicted is due to problems paying rent, eviction records can present a reliable indication of future rent-paying behavior. In other words—in some cases, the past can predict the future.
Based on a 2013 survey from TransUnion, on average, it takes about a month and up to four thousand dollars in lost rent, court costs, and legal fees to evict a tenant. If you can figure out ahead of time whether or not that’s likely to be a risk, that’s real money and time you can save your future self! By completing an evictions check, you’re doing your prospective tenant a favor as well; no one likes moving more than they have to.
Laws Regarding Eviction Searches
Before you take the time to search eviction records, you should see if there are any laws that may influence what you can do with what you find. For example, in June of 2019, a new bill was introduced which specifically prohibits “denial on the basis of [a prospective tenant’s] involvement in prior disputes” in New York City. In this case, if a landlord searched through nationwide evictions records and found one filed under his tenant’s name, he could not reject the application based on that information.
It’s also important to note that in the above bill, the express language was included to close a loophole regarding agents acting in your name. In other words, your real estate agent or anyone else working for your team can’t screen tenants for you in regions where such actions are restricted.
You should also be aware that you can only freely see that which is public record. In California, sixty days after the eviction is filed, that filing is sealed from public view. You may only be able to view recent records, as well; in many states, evictions only stay on record for seven years.
While eviction reports (free ones, at that) can be great tools to help you make your decisions, therefore, please be aware that they may not provide as much information as you think, and you may not be able to use the information you find. Always start eviction processes by reading up on the laws in your state!
How to Conduct a Free Eviction Check
There are plenty of online services that try to sell you eviction reports, but it’s a simple process that you can completely free of charge. You’ll need your prospective tenant’s name and previous address.
You’ll also need to access the civil court record system of the county their previous address(es) was located in. Many counties have this information located online which means that you can conduct a search from the comfort of your home office. Keep in mind, a site may ask you to create an online profile to access this information as a public user.
Enter the relevant information into the search portal and you will be able to see if the prospective tenant has any evictions on record. Here’s a quick rundown of where you can perform these searches in the top 10 metropolitan areas for renters in the U.S., simply click the link and you’ll be taken to the civil court’s search portal.
- New York City, NY – this is a dataset of all evictions from 2017 – Present. You can also search e-courts for names.
- Los Angeles, CA
- Chicago, IL
- Dallas, TX
- Houston, TX
- Washington, DC
- Miami, FL
- Philadelphia, PA
- Atlanta, GA
- Boston, MA
What to do If a Tenant has an Eviction on Record
If you find that your prospective tenant has an eviction on record, what you do is ultimately up to you. You may decide that a previous eviction doesn’t need to factor into your current decision or that there are other factors deserving of consideration. If you do decide to take action, here are a few steps to consider to make sure that all of your bases are covered.
- Regarding the previous eviction record, make sure to send an “Adverse Action Notice” if it came from a credit-reporting agency. This helps keep everyone informed as to your current and future courses of action.
- Ensure you’ve read up on the tenant screening and eviction laws in your state. Remember that the laws change, so you’ve got review any changes. For example, we’ve got a guide about tenant screening laws in New York as of 2019.
- Consider speaking with your tenant and offering them the chance to leave of their own accord prior to initiating a formal legal eviction process.
- Keep records of all of the paperwork involved and make multiple copies! Having a paper trail will protect you and everyone else involved, so don’t be shy to make sure everything is properly documented.
As a landlord, you know that your relationship with your tenants can make or break both of your experiences. A free eviction check will give you valuable information which can inform your decision in forming these relationships. When you search eviction records, you can empower yourself in making decisions regarding your properties and efficiently protect your time and money.