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Owning and managing rental property can be a great way to bring in extra income and diversify your investments. In fact, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are around 48 million rental units in the United States.
As with any investment, though, owning rental property isn’t without concerns. One of the most important tasks for a landlord is properly vetting potential tenants, which usually involves a tenant screening service. These services allow landlords to run credit and identity checks, criminal and rental history reports, view past eviction and judgment/lien histories, and even see whether tenants are on terrorist watch lists.
By properly screening tenants before approving, landlords and property managers can reduce the chance of a bad rental experience. To help with this process, here are the companies we consider to be the best tenant screening services.
Best Overall: SmartMove
Why We Chose It: SmartMove allows landlords to quickly and easily screen potential tenants directly through a credit bureau, without needing to exchange private information. The platform also offers landlord resources and accepts rent payments online on an easy-to-navigate website.
Screening is done directly through a credit bureau (TransUnion), with no need to exchange private information
Free to create an account and view reports
Vet tenants, request applications, and accept rent within the platform
Reports are quick and a rentability score is generated
No live screening option available
Lowest-priced package is $25
Criminal data not available in all states
Reports aren’t generated until tenants complete the application
Used by nearly 4 million landlords, SmartMove is a simple-to-use tenant screening service that helps landlords vet tenants and manage their properties anywhere in the United States. It’s a web-based program that's designed for independent landlords who have one or more properties, but don’t necessarily need the in-house programs that large, professional property management companies use.
By creating a free online account with SmartMove, landlords can send applications directly to potential tenants. This eliminates the need for paper applications, or for tenants and landlords to exchange important personal information such as a Social Security number. Once tenants fill out the online application, SmartMove will run a reliable credit check directly from TransUnion and will quickly provide landlords with the results within the platform.
Property owners can choose to pay for the tenant screening or pass the cost on to the applicant(s). Basic packages start at $25 and go up to $40 for the premium option. Depending on the package chosen, the tenant screening includes a national criminal background report, full credit check, income insights, and a national eviction report. (Note that as of January 2021, instant criminal background reports are not currently available in Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, South Carolina, or Wyoming.)
Landlords and property managers will also receive a Credit-Based ResidentScore, which can help determine which tenants would be a safe choice. Once a tenant is selected, they can be approved directly from the platform; SmartMove even makes it easy to receive rent via ACH/eCheck, credit cards, or debit cards.
Best for Live Screening: RentPrep
Why We Chose It: With RentPrep, property owners and managers can thoroughly and affordably vet potential tenants with the help of live, certified background screeners.
Screening is completed and validated by FCRA-certified background screeners
Most results received within 1–2 hours
Packages start at $18.95
Volume discounts offered to those with 50+ units
Results may be delayed outside of business hours
Only two packages available, and no à la carte services
Tenant is required to respond via email for the full report package
While most online tenant screening services are automated, RentPrep takes things a step further for landlords who want a more personalized touch. The company’s screening and tenant validation process is completed by background screeners certified by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Though it’s not immediate, the process is still fast, with most landlords receiving results in about one to two hours. However, it’s important to note that results may be delayed if reports are ordered after hours or on holidays.
RentPrep offers two packages to choose from: a basic Background Check ($18.95) or the premium Full Credit Report ($38). For landlords looking for minimal information, the basic package is one of the lower-priced options available from any of the tenant screening companies we reviewed.
The basic package includes an SSN verification and address history, eviction history, bankruptcy history, and a judgments/liens report. Additional services can be added, such as a national criminal and sex offender search ($4) and income verification ($10). The premium package includes a full credit report with ResidentScore, SSN verification and address history, criminal and sex offender search, national eviction search, and bankruptcy history. The judgments/liens report is $4.95 extra, however, and income verification is another $10.
In order to receive results from the premium package, the tenant will need to respond to an email. For the basic package, however, no tenant response is needed.
As with SmartMove above, landlords who choose the premium package will also receive a rentability score, which is meant to help determine whether a potential tenant is a good choice for a landlord. This is not included with the basic package, though a credit decision report can be added for another $9.95.
Best All-in-One Platform: Avail
Why We Chose It: Avail offers a complete property management platform, not only allowing landlords to quickly and effectively screen tenants but also search for new tenants, collect their rent, and facilitate maintenance needs over the course of the tenancy.
Start-to-finish rental property services
Choose who pays: landlord or tenant
Basic renter profile is free
Eviction and criminal history reports in all 50 states
Lease templates offered
Full screening package is more expensive than some other companies
Tenants need to respond in order to fulfill the screening request
Avail is a rental property platform trusted by more than 150,000 landlords, but up until 2019, the company was known as Rentalutions. This all-in-one property management system has been around since 2012, however, and makes marketing properties, screening tenants, accepting rent payments, and even tracking maintenance requests simple and affordable.
Tenant screening is automated with results in as little as a few minutes. Landlords can choose between three screening packages:
- Basic renter profile is free and offers only job history, rental history, and income verification.
- Credit+ is $30 and includes the basic renter profile plus a credit score, credit history, and adverse items.
- Full Screening is $55 and includes everything from Credit+ as well as nationwide criminal and sex offender searches, terror list check, and evictions.
The reports are simple to read, with Avail even providing red flags and highlighting important results to note.
For DIY landlords, Avail makes it simple to manage properties year-round. Avail’s management platform allows for property listings, rent collection, maintenance requests, and more; depending on the option chosen, this service is either free or $5 per month.
Best for Building Packages: MyRental
Why We Chose It: Landlords can choose from one of MyRental’s affordable tenant screening packages or build their own with à la carte reports, in addition to using MyRental’s free online rental applications.
Choose from two packages or build from à la carte options
Individual reports start at $7.99
Premium plan is under $35
Valuable tenant screening metrics provided with report
Tenant-pay option only available with premium package
No live screeners offered
No property management functionality
Most tenant screening services offer simple packages to choose from. For landlords who prefer options or want the ability to build a package to suit, however, MyRental is a good choice.
MyRental was founded in 2010 and offers online tenant screening across the country. It has two package options: Basic (for $24.99 per applicant) or Premium ($34.99 per applicant). It also offers à la carte reports ranging from $7.99 to $19.99, allowing landlords to pick and choose what they need. (Note that the tenant-pay option is only available with premium packages.)
The basic package does not require tenant approval and includes an eviction history, previous address history, terrorist alert, multistate criminal check, and multistate sex offender check. The premium package does require tenant approval, but it includes those reports plus a credit report, SafeRent Score, and a Landlord Acceptance Rate.
The latter two are proprietary MyRental scores, aimed at helping landlords determine the risk involved with a potential tenant and whether other landlords would be likely to rent to them.
While this company does offer online application templates and tenant screening, the functionality stops there. No features are offered for those looking to market a property, accept rent payments, or manage maintenance requests.
Screening potential tenants for a property is an imperative part of owning and/or managing a rental unit. Finding the right tenant screening service can be tricky, especially if the goal is simplicity and managing costs.
The four tenant screening services mentioned here are, in our opinion, the best options. They not only offer trusted and secure screening, but also provide landlords with additional features, property management tools, and even marketing options along the way.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Tenant Screening Service?
A tenant screening service is a platform that allows landlords to properly vet potential tenants prior to approving them for a rental property. These screening services provide a range of reports on tenants, including a credit check, income verification, identity/SSN verification, criminal history, job history, eviction history, judgments and liens, and checks within the national sex offender registry.
Tenant screening services can be purchased individually or as packages, and they are typically initiated by the landlord but authorized by the tenant. They almost always involve a soft credit inquiry (vs. a hard pull).
How Long Does a Tenant Screening Take?
Most online tenant screening services take only minutes to complete. Once the requests are authorized and submitted, reports are returned to the landlord almost immediately. The only caveat is with live screening services, which require certified background screeners; these usually take around 1–2 hours to process during business hours.
How Much Do Tenant Screening Services Cost?
Basic tenant screening services are inexpensive and, in some cases, even free. For the typical tenant screening, the average cost is between $25 and $40. Additional reports can be added for extra.
How We Chose the Best Tenant Screening Services
In order to choose the best tenant screening services, we compared the services offered by more than 15 different companies. We looked at factors such as pricing, simplicity, security, and the speed of results. We also considered how easily these results are received and interpreted by landlords, and whether these platforms offered additional services or features to property owners or managers.