Can I use a people finder website for tenant screening?

I’m about to rent out my apartment to someone and I was thinking about using one of the people finder websites to get some more information about them. Am I allowed to do that without telling them?

roommatesThe short answer is no – you shouldn’t use one of the people finder websites to screen a tenant or roommmate.

People finder websites are NOT Consumer Reporting Agencies, so you’re not allowed to use them for any purpose governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

What is the FCRA? 

The FCRA is a federal law that regulates the use of consumer information. Only FCRA compliant information can legally be used by landlord to judge a person’s suitability as a tenant (or for any other credit-related product). While people finder websites use information that is generally believed to be very accurate, it is not FCRA compliant.  Consequently, you’re not supposed to use it for tenant screening.

There are FCRA-compliant search services specifically designed for this purpose, which allow landlords to run official background checks. Generally, these are more expensive and take longer to produce than the ones you would get from the people finder websites.  They also require that you get your prospective tenant to sign off on the background check.

Knowing that, you might ask yourself – what’s the worst that can happen if I use one of the regular people finder websites?  Well, if you choose to rent to the person you perform the search on, probably not much. The problem comes if you choose not to rent to the person. Whenever an adverse action is taken on the basis of a report, the FCRA stipulates that a consumer (in this case, your prospective tenant) be notified of why you are denying them, including information on the company that provided the report.

consumerIn turn, the consumer has the option to check the accuracy and completeness of the report, which they can then choose to contest.  Obviously, if you didn’t use an FCRA report, they could have a legal basis to take you to court.  There’s also a 5-year statute of limitations, so – unless you really want that hanging over your head for half a decade – it’s probably better not to risk using the people finder websites for this purpose.

All that said, if you were looking for a prospective roommate to share an apartment (or other living space) with and you’re not actually the one renting out/subletting the apartment, there’s nothing to stop you from using a people search website to check criminal records, address history, past neighbors, etc. to get an idea of who you’re potentially going to be living with.

You can start that kind of search right here for free:

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Bottom line: Don’t use people finder websites to run background checks to screen tenants, but you can potentially use them for prospective roommates.

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3. When am I allowed to run a background check on someone?