Finding a good tenant is a bit like finding that perfect breakfast spot. You know, the one where they never mess up your order, and the vibe is just right? That's the sweet spot every landlord is aiming for.

And if that's what you're looking for, then tenant screening is the secret recipe for success that you've been searching for. It's a must-have process for every landlord who wants to keep their investment as safe as dad's cookie jar; placed well out of the kid's reach.

However, tenant screening is a very broad topic. So, let’s zero in on one of the core elements of the tenant screening process: how to check for evictions.

Ready to learn more about evictions and eviction records? Let’s get started.

What is a Public Eviction Record?

So, what is the difference between an eviction and a public eviction record? 

An eviction is when a landlord needs to legally remove a tenant from their rental property—usually because rent wasn't paid or the lease agreement was ignored.

When we discuss an ‘eviction record,’ that is the paper trail (retained by the court) of the eviction process detailing how it played out. It's a formal document that says, “This person was asked to leave a property; here's why, and here's what the end result was.”

Two Types of Eviction Records

There are two types of eviction records you might come across:

  1. The eviction records that the courthouse may be able to furnish as part of a tenant screening
  2. A balance owed to a rental property that may show up on a credit report

The one record will explicitly state that the tenant was involved in eviction proceedings, and it will show the results (e.g., judgment, deferment, dismissal, continuance, writ of possession, etc.).

The second type of record will simply show up as a balance on a credit report, indicating that the tenant has a past-due balance owed to a rental property. Even if the tenant screening does not reveal any eviction records from the court system, the credit history might tell a different story.

A balance owed to a property management company might indicate one (or more) of the following:

  1. Eviction
  2. Skip / Broken Lease
  3. Damages
  4. Unpaid Rent
  5. Unpaid Utilities

How Long Before an Eviction Shows Up in Records

The time it takes for an eviction to appear on a tenant screening report after being filed depends on how quickly the court processes the eviction, the judgment is entered, and the tenant screening companies update their records.

Most state eviction laws in the US require that eviction notices have to provide a tenant anywhere from (1) one to (14) fourteen days to remedy the issue before the property manager can actually file eviction paperwork in court. Most leases also provide a 1-5 day grace period before any eviction notices are posted for unpaid rent.

That means it's not unreasonable to assume that the amount of time it takes for evictions to show up on a tenant's record would generally be 15+ days; that's assuming the jurisdiction where the case is filed updates its records that quickly. Otherwise, it could easily be thirty or more days before evictions show up on a prospective tenant's screening history.

Understanding the Rules About Eviction Reports

But before we get too deep into the process of checking for evictions and how to use them as part of our application and tenant screening process, we need first to discuss a very important law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and how that impacts what a credit bureau may, or may not, provide you with in a screening report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Explained

The FCRA is the law that says how eviction information can be used and who can see it. It's there to ensure that when someone checks a tenant's background, they conduct the tenant screening and the decision-making process that follows, according to the law.

Permissible Purpose: Landlords or property managers must have a permissible purpose, as defined by the FCRA, to request a consumer report that includes eviction records. Tenant screening is considered a permissible purpose.

Disclosure and Authorization: Before obtaining a report that includes eviction records, landlords must disclose to the applicant that they intend to obtain a consumer report and must obtain the applicant’s written consent.

Accuracy and Privacy: Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which compile and provide eviction records, are required under the FCRA to ensure the information they provide is accurate and up to date. Individuals have the right to dispute inaccurate information, and CRAs are required to investigate and correct any inaccuracies found.

Adverse Action Notification: If a landlord decides not to rent to an applicant based on information found in a consumer report, including eviction records, the FCRA requires the landlord to provide the applicant with an adverse action notice. This notice must include the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency that supplied the report, a statement that the CRA did not make the decision to take the adverse action and cannot give specific reasons for it, and a notice of the individual's right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information the agency furnished, and to get an additional free report from the agency if the individual asks for it within 60 days.

Limitation on Reporting: The FCRA limits the reporting of certain negative information, including eviction records. Generally, eviction records cannot be reported if they are older than seven years. This provision helps ensure that outdated information doesn’t unfairly impact an individual’s housing opportunities.

Consumer Rights: Individuals have the right to obtain one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus, as well as the right to know if information in their file has been used against them in applying for housing, employment, or other instances where consumer reports are used for decision-making.

Failure to follow the strict guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act can have very stiff penalties.

How to Check for Evictions: Step by Step

Finding out if a potential tenant has been evicted before is much like investigative detective work. Here’s how to start your investigation.

How Courts Come Into Play

When someone is evicted, the whole thing usually starts and ends in court. For landlords, knowing how these courts work is key to understanding the eviction reports they possess.

Searching Online Court Records

First up, let's talk about manually diving into online court records. This is the most difficult and time-consuming method, but it's important to cover nonetheless.

How to Look Up Court Records Online

You’ll want to check out websites for courts in the area—like the justice court or district court. These websites are like a digital filing cabinet where you can find records on all sorts of things, including evictions.

Most property managers choose to search courts based on the information provided on the rental application (e.g., applicant's current address, previous addresses from the past five years, etc.).

You can typically just search for the county court name online and go directly to their website. There, you can manually use their database search tool to see if your applicant has any eviction records in that county.

Using a Tenant Screening Service

Next up—Tenant Screening Services. This will change your life as a property manager and eliminate the need for manual, error-prone tenant screenings

What Are Tenant Screening Services?

Tenant screening services… the Swiss army knife of the tenant screening process. These services do the legwork for you, pulling together reports that include a rental history report, a credit check, and even criminal background checks to determine if the applicant has a criminal record.

On TenantCloud, you can actually automate the screening service as part of the overall application flow. It's nice!

How These Services Can Help

Tenant screening services are super helpful because they give you a big picture of who you’re thinking about renting to. They will discover any relevant eviction records (if there are any) while simultaneously pulling a complete criminal background check and even a full credit report (+ Resident Score) if you need one. 

Rather than manually checking county by county, you can just enter their information once (or the applicant can enter it themselves) and then process the screening in just a few clicks.

Talking to Previous Landlords

Another manual method is reaching out to previous landlords. If you require that your applicants put their address history for the past few years on the application, then that information might include previous landlords. You can then reach out to each landlord yourself. Just keep in mind that this practice is not as common as it was many years ago.

How to Get the Scoop from Previous Landlords

Previous landlords can tell you firsthand if the person was a good tenant, paid their rent on time, or ever got evicted. You can simply call, email, or fax them a rental verification form. The verification form typically has a few simple, straightforward questions that they can answer and send right back to you.

Why This Might Be a Good Idea

Chatting with previous landlords gives you the inside scoop. You may hear about what the tenant was like and maybe even whether or not they’d rent to them again. Just make sure you don't run afoul of the Fair Housing Act or the FCRA in your screening and decision-making process.

Whether you’re combing through online records, using a screening service, or chatting with past landlords, each step brings you closer to understanding who you’re renting to.

Why This Might Be a Bad Idea

It's not uncommon for tenants with a sordid rental history to include fake previous landlord information on their rental application. When you call, email, or fax the information, it might be going to a friend or a relative rather than an actual landlord. Also, a tenant may just put incorrect address information in, stating that they were living with friends or family rather than renting for the past several years. In general, relying solely on information from the application may be a bad idea.

How to Understand Eviction Reports

Eviction information can sometimes be a little difficult to decipher. But no worries—that's what this article will help you sort out.

What You'll See in an Eviction Report

An eviction report will spell out what happened. It usually starts with the eviction filing—this is when the landlord officially asks the court to remove the tenant.

If the tenant didn’t pay their debts as a result of the eviction judgment, they might be handed over to a collection agency. That part of the story can end up on the applicant's credit report, showing they owe money for things like unpaid rent or damage to the property.

That's why pulling both eviction records and credit history is important as part of a comprehensive tenant screening report.

You might come across phrases and words as part of the eviction records you uncover. Here are some of the most common ones.

Key Terms to Know

Eviction Notice: A formal document given by a landlord to a tenant indicating a breach of the lease agreement and the intention to reclaim the property. Types include "pay or quit" (for unpaid rent), "cure or quit" (to remedy a lease violation), and "unconditional quit" (to vacate without the option to remedy).

Eviction Case: An eviction case is when the landlord actually files an eviction in court, and it becomes an active court case.

Lease Violation: Any action by the tenant that goes against the terms agreed upon in the lease agreement, such as unauthorized pets, additional occupants not on the lease, or causing damage to the property.

Unlawful Detainer: A legal action initiated by the landlord to remove a tenant from a rental property after they have violated the lease agreement and have not left voluntarily after receiving an eviction notice.

Summons and Complaint: Legal documents served to a tenant involved in an unlawful detainer action, officially notifying them of the eviction lawsuit and detailing the claims against them.

Judgment for Possession: A court decision in favor of the landlord, granting them the right to reclaim possession of the property. This often leads to the issuance of a writ of possession if the tenant does not vacate.

Writ of Possession: An order issued by the court authorizing the sheriff or law enforcement to remove the tenant and their belongings from the property.

Settlement Agreement: An agreement reached either before or during the eviction court process, where the landlord and tenant agree on terms that usually result in the tenant vacating the property under specific conditions.

Default Judgment: A judgment made by the court in favor of the landlord when the tenant fails to respond to the summons and complaint or does not appear in court.

Stay of Execution: A temporary halt of the eviction process, often granted by the court to give the tenant more time to vacate the property under certain conditions.

Tenant At Will: A tenant who occupies the rental property without a formal lease agreement is often subject to eviction with a shorter notice period.

Understanding these terms helps you read the eviction report correctly.

Why Understanding the Eviction Process Matters

Knowing the eviction process and the outcomes is fundamental because it tells you more about the tenant. Did they leave right after getting the notice, or did it go all the way to court?

Each outcome tells you something about how they handle responsibilities and disagreements, as well as whether or not the tenant was found at fault by the court.

Did the court ultimately rule in the tenant's favor? You may not be able to use that eviction record as part of your decision-making process since it's essentially the equivalent of a not-guilty verdict.

Spotting Patterns

If you see a pattern of unpaid rent or multiple evictions, then it may be a scenario where they tend to leave a mess everywhere they go. It suggests this might be a habit rather than a one-time thing. On the other hand, a single eviction could have a reasonable explanation (e.g., divorce, bankruptcy, etc.).

How to Weigh Tenant Risk

When you’re looking at potential tenants, you’re going to want to look at more than just their eviction history because that's just a small glimpse of the larger picture.

Looking at the Big Picture

This means considering things like their credit report and any criminal history alongside eviction records. A credit report can tell you how they handle money, while a criminal report might highlight concerns that could affect your property or other tenants.

General Information vs. Specific Details

When you’re sifting through all this information, start with the broad strokes. What’s the general feeling you get from their history? Are there more positives than negatives? Then, zoom in on specifics like patterns of unpaid rent or the reasons behind an eviction filing.

For instance, someone with a single eviction during a tough economic time but with a generally strong payment history might still be a great tenant. On the other hand, prior evictions or an unpaid rent balance might be red flags that this person could be a riskier choice. If someone had an eviction from four years ago but has a positive rental history for the last three years, then perhaps it was just a blip on the radar.

Incomplete Eviction Records

One common snag is coming across incomplete or inaccurate eviction records. This can be frustrating. In these cases, you may need to dig a little deeper into the tenant's public record, including manual actions. 

Consider reaching out to the court for more information or asking the applicant to provide their side of the story along with any additional court records they may have, such as dismissals, judgments in their favor, etc.

Making the Call

Assessing risk isn’t about finding a tenant with a perfect record; it’s about finding one who’s right for your property. It’s like assessing risk in any situation—you gather all the information you can, then make the best decision with what you have. Sometimes, a bit of empathy and understanding can guide you to a tenant who’s not only reliable but also grateful for the chance to make your property their home.

By considering their eviction history in the context of their overall financial and rental background, you can make the best decision that also protects your property.

Avoiding Discrimination Issues

You just need to make sure that you're not violating any fair housing laws in the decision-making process. It's generally required by law to have a clear set of rules (re: rental criteria) written down that explain how you make exceptions when someone doesn't meet your usual requirements.

For instance, if a person doesn't have a high enough resident score (or credit score) or has had an eviction within the last five years, some property managers might still let them rent. But, they might ask for a bigger security deposit, or they might need the renter to pay the first and last month's rent upfront or meet some other condition to balance out the risk.

Risk Management Recap

Ultimately, eviction checks are a critical component of a broader strategy aimed at safeguarding your investment and ensuring the sustainability of your rental business. By making informed decisions based on comprehensive background checks and tenant screenings to get a better sense of someone's eviction history, you’re not only protecting your real estate but also investing in its future success and the well-being of your tenant community.


The information provided in this guide is intended to give an overall understanding of eviction checks and is not meant to serve as legal advice. This material may not cover all aspects of the law related to eviction checks, and it is highly recommended that readers consult with a licensed legal professional in their area for more detailed, accurate, and personalized advice. Laws and regulations often vary by location, and they are subject to change over time. Therefore, it is important to understand your local laws and regulations, as they can significantly affect the eviction check process. The author, publisher, and any other parties associated with this article cannot be held liable for any damages or consequences resulting from the use or misuse of this information.