Overcoming Apartment Fears - Afraid Tenant Screening Will Hurt You?

Tips for Staying in Control When Searching for a Rental

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Many apartment hunters are worried that something lurking in a background check will greatly hurt their chances of getting an apartment. If you're an apartment hunter anxious about tenant screening, are you generally afraid something will pop up that will disqualify you? Or are you aware of something specific on your record that you believe a landlord is bound to discover?

Either way, it's important to keep your cool and stay in control of your search.

Here are some tips for how to handle each situation:

Situation #1: You're Generally Worried Something Negative Will Turn Up

If you have no reason to believe tenant screening will lead to problems, you may just be anxious because you really want a certain apartment or you're eager to reach the conclusion of a long or difficult apartment search.

If there's nothing specific you know about, try not to worry. Keep in mind that if something negative comes up, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't get an apartment. For example, a blemish on your credit report won't necessarily bring your score so low that you don't meet a particular landlord's financial qualifications.

Also, if a negative item comes up that's substantial enough to make you unqualified to rent an apartment, there may be things you can do to compensate for it, such as ask the landlord if you can use a guarantor.

To prevent unpleasant surprises, it's a good idea to check your credit score before you start an apartment search.

This way, not only will you be familiar with your score and how you stand, but you'll have a chance to identify any mistakes and get them fixed. (If you're apartment hunting in New York City, be aware that a law called the Tenant Fair Chance Act requires landlords to let prospective tenants know the names and addresses of any screening companies they use to obtain court docket reports.

This way, if you believe a report is about another person who has the same or a similar name, you have an opportunity to point this out and not lose out on an apartment.)

Situation #2: You're Worried About Something Specific

Sometimes, apartment hunters are aware of something specific in their background that they're afraid a landlord will learn about and use to disqualify them.

If this is your situation, you have two choices:

  1. Stay silent. You can keep quiet about it and hope that the negative item doesn't show up in a search (and if it does, that a landlord discounts it); or
  2. Disclose. You can bring the item up on your own to a landlord or broker.

Most people pursue the first option because the thought of pointing out something that can hurt you doesn't have obvious appeal. Also, it keeps open the chance that landlords won't learn about the negative item that you're worrying about. However, waiting and hoping can cause much anxiety, and if a landlord discovers the negative item, you might wish you had been the one to bring it to the landlord's attention in the first place.

The main advantage of pursuing the second choice is that it puts you in control. If you suspect a negative item in your record will come up in a search, bringing it up to a landlord or broker is the way to ensure they learn about it from you -- and in the manner in which you choose to present it.

Affirmatively bringing up something that you have strong reason to believe will be discovered anyway makes you look better and also prevents landlords from discovering negative (and possibly inaccurate) things about you and jumping to conclusions on their own. It also gives you a chance to explain something that might not be obvious or even correct.

For example, say you once sued the landlord of an apartment you rented. You might worry that future landlords will learn about this lawsuit and peg you as a "problem tenant" who's adversarial and quick to bring landlords to court. Of course, you know that you've always been a good tenant who pays your rent in full and on time and lawsuits are the last thing you want. You sued your landlord once because, in all honesty, he was a slumlord. You had a valid reason for suing this particular landlord under unique circumstances, and so you'll want your next landlord to know the lawsuit you filed is of course no indicator of your being a bad tenant.

If you don't get an apartment on account of a negative item that you brought up, then you presumably wouldn't have gotten the apartment had the landlord discovered it through tenant screening.

There are pros and cons of pursuing each choice, so consider each one carefully and do what's the most comfortable for you in a particular situation. If you're having trouble deciding what to do, seek input from a trusted family member or friend.