Usually when you apply to a new rental property, the agent, landlord or property manager will perform a tenant screening. Since rental history is a major part of this process, it's important to know what's on your report ahead of time. This will give you detailed information reported by any of your previous landlords so you can take action to remove or fix errors and put your best foot forward on your next application.
What is a rental history report?
A rental history report details everything about your previous tenancies and can help future landlords paint a picture of what kind of renter you’ll be. The specific information depends on the type of report the prospective landlord chooses to run, but most reports will list all the properties you’ve rented from in chronological order as well as the contact information of previous property management companies or landlords. Additionally, these reports may also include things like the dates you lived in those rentals, the rent amounts, information on missed payments or damages, any prior evictions, and other issues that may affect other tenants in a multi-family building.
Why is it important to obtain your rental history report?
Landlords often use a rental history report to cross-check any information you provide in the application, so it’s helpful for you to know what your report says. They may ask you to explain any discrepancies between the application, credit check, and rental history to ensure they gain an accurate picture of you as a prospective tenant. Obtaining your rental history report before you start applying gives you a chance to review any issues on your report so you can prepare for any questions your future landlord may have.
Rental history reports are not always accurate, so you want to check yours for any errors before you start the application process for a new rental. If a past landlord reported inaccurate information, it could affect the decision of a new landlord to accept or deny your application. Getting a copy of your rental history report ahead of time gives you an opportunity to fix any mistakes before your next landlord reviews it.
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you can request a copy of your rental history report at no charge. A good portion of the FCRA revolves around a “consumer report”, a general term that includes credit checks and background checks.
Examples of consumer reports that landlords might use to screen applicants include:
- A credit report from a credit bureau like TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax.
- A report from a tenant screening service that describes the applicant’s rental history based on housing court records or reports from previous landlords.
- A report from a reference-checking service that contacts previous landlords or other people listed on the rental application on behalf of the landlord.
Understanding rental history reports
Unfortunately, property managers and landlords can’t just take your word that you’re a "good tenant". They'll want a clear picture of your rental record and will use specialized reports to determine whether they’ll accept you as a tenant at their property.
Key report details include:
- Contact information for your previous landlords
- Addresses of all previous properties you rented
- How much rent you paid
- How long you lived in each rental
- Any issues or problems you caused, such as damage to the unit, late rent payments, broken leases, neighbor complaints, or an eviction notice
- Any recommendations from past landlords
Factors that can impact your rental history report
Landlords want to rent to responsible, respectful tenants who will take care of the property, get along with the neighbors, and pay their rent on time. If you were a stellar tenant and your landlord reported that, it would show positively on your rental history report. Any significant problems that occurred while you were renting are red flags to a landlord.
Some positive examples could be:
- On-time rent payments
- Rent payments in full
- Leases agreements you've signed
- Accuracy of stated income
Some negative examples could be:
- Late payments
- Outstanding debts
- Damage incurred
- Noise complaints
- Lease violations
Make sure your rental history report is accurate
Always review your rental history to check for accuracy. Are all your previous addresses, landlords’ names, and occupancy dates correct? What about the rental rates? Many landlords refer to past rental rates to help determine if tenants will be able to afford to pay the rent reliably and on time.
If you find an error, you can file a dispute with the reporting company. The company will conduct a review of the dispute and either correct the report or, if they believe their information is accurate, leave it as-is. If they don’t revise the report, you can append it with a written note that includes documentation to support your claim. This note will be included when others request your report.
How to obtain your rental history report
You can request a free credit check with a rental history report from the three credit bureaus. You can also use an online service to run a tenant screening and rental history report on yourself.
Self-reporting your rental history
When filling out a rental application, you can provide details of your past tenancies, the landlord’s address and contact information, rental rates, and any payment issues or other problems that arose when you lived there.
Most landlords will still request their own report to ensure they get the whole story. You can also use a rent reporting service to ensure your rent payments are included on your credit report. Working with a rent reporting service isn’t free, but it could be worth the cost to help you establish a good track record of rental payments and also improve your credit score.
Gathering documentation from past landlords
If you had a problem-free tenancy, consider contacting any of your past landlords and asking them to write you a recommendation letter. Ask them to include the dates of tenancy, rental rates, and a brief description of your time as their tenant.
Submitting documentation to credit bureaus
Landlords want to see that you can pay your rent consistently and on time. They also like to see how long you’ve lived in each rental to determine when they may have a vacancy. When you submit all of the information you collected from landlords and your rent payment information to the credit bureaus, you’re on the way to building an excellent credit history report to help a new landlord approve your application.
Third-party rental history report services
Third-party report services record your on-time rent payments and help you boost your credit score. Many services will report up to two years of previous rent payments, and you can include previous rental addresses and contact information for past landlords. You can also report your monthly rent, explanations for any issues with late rent, evictions, broken leases, damaged property, and a review from past landlords. These services typically charge a fee, but it may be worth if you have a limited credit history or need to repair your credit.
Choosing a reputable and reliable third-party rent reporting service
Look for these main factors when evaluating third-party services:
- FCRA compliance
- Staff training
- Company history and reputation
- Pricing plans and what’s included, and any additional fees
- How quickly they can provide a rental history report
- Assurance that humans verify specific data collected
Third-party services that embrace technology for speed and efficiency and are verified with human research efforts should be on the top of your list.
Improving your rental history report
Make it a habit to request your rental history report through online services like RentSpree before you start applying for your next home to ensure you’re always putting your best foot forward. In addition to checking your report for inaccuracies, you can start to positively influence your report by:
Paying rent and bills on time - If you have a less than stellar track record of paying your rent, set up a budget to pay your rent on time and your other bills.
Maintaining good communication with landlords – Always communicate respectfully and responsibly with your landlord. Answer questions when they ask and communicate any maintenance issues as they arise so your landlord can advocate for you in a rental history report.
Taking care of the property - Most lease agreements specify that tenants are expected to keep the property in the same or better condition as it was when they moved in. Take care of (or even improve) the property while you live there to improve the likelihood that your landlord will speak highly of you to another property manager.
Resolving any disputes or negative entries - If your report has negative entries or inaccurate information, do your best to resolve those issues before applying for another rental property. Consider setting up time with your landlord to address any issues that could lead to a negative comment from them.
You want your rental history to reflect accurate information so a new landlord can make an approval decision based on facts. Previous incidents of poor tenancy can linger on your rental history report if you don’t take action to address them, and can disqualify you from renting with another landlord if they deem you a problem tenant.