As a landlord, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches if the tenant to whom you're leasing has a history of paying rent on time. One way to check this is to see whether the tenant has been evicted in the past. The good news is that evictions are public record. Anyone can find the information by searching the county court database or purchasing a tenant screening report for a onetime fee.
Check the Court Records
You can't evict someone by throwing him out into the street — you have to get a court order. That means the eviction shows up in the court records for the county in which the person was evicted. Anyone can search these records at the court clerk's office; in some counties, you can search the database of judgments online using the person's first and last name. The only problem is that every county keeps its own records. If the person you're searching has moved around a lot, you might have to search in multiple counties to find all her evictions.
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Buy a Tenant Screening Report
Lots of companies sell tenant-screening reports to help landlords vet a potential tenant before he signs the lease. This includes the three major credit agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A standard tenant check will pull up the person's eviction history as well as her bankruptcies, tax liens, credit score and payment history, in one convenient report. Fees vary between companies, but typically you'll pay around $15 for a standard check. If the person you're checking is a potential tenant, you can usually charge him the fee.
Speak to Former Landlords
When a tenant doesn't pay rent, it triggers the start of a legal process to get the tenant evicted. That process begins with the landlord serving a "notice to quit," giving the tenant a certain amount of time to pay up or move out. Many tenants leave when they receive the notice, and the eviction never goes to court. This means there's no judgment to record on the tenant's credit report. As a responsible landlord, you likely want to know about "almost-evictions." To do that, you need to pick up the phone and speak to the former landlords listed on the tenant's rental application. Checking references is a good way to find out if the tenant missed rent payments, behaved poorly, or if there were any complaints or other problems.
Why You Should Check Evictions
Evictions are good predictors of future behavior; if a tenant has skipped out on rent before, she's likely to do it again. While you can always evict a tenant who doesn't pay on time, it's better to have a tenant you can trust from the beginning. The cost of an eviction averages $3,500 when you add up lost rent and court costs, and most small landlords can't absorb these kinds of losses. Forewarned is forearmed as they say, so don't skip this important piece of due diligence.