Credit Checks

The landlord or the landlord's agent will probably use your rental application to check your credit history and past landlord-tenant relations. The landlord may obtain your credit report from a credit reporting agency to help him or her decide whether to rent to you. Credit reporting agencies (or "credit bureaus") keep records of people's credit histories, called "credit reports." Credit reports state whether a person has been reported as being late in paying bills, has been the subject of an unlawful detainer lawsuit (see Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit section), or has filed bankruptcy.

Some credit reporting agencies, called tenant screening service, collect and sell information on tenants. This information may include whether tenants paid their rent on time, whether they damaged previous rental units, whether they were the subject of an unlawful detainer lawsuit, and whether landlords considered them good or bad tenants.

The landlord may use this information to make a final decision on whether to rent to you. Generally, landlords prefer to rent to people who have a history of paying their rent and other bills on time.

A landlord usually doesn't have to give you a reason for refusing to rent to you. However, if the decision is based partly or entirely on negative information from a credit reporting agency or a tenant screening service, the law requires the landlord to give you a written notice stating all of the following:

  • The decision was based partly or entirely on information in the credit report; and 
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency; and 
  • A statement that you have the right to obtain a free copy of the credit report from the credit reporting agency that prepared it and to dispute the accuracy or completeness of information in the credit report.

If the landlord refuses to rent to you based on your credit report, it's a good idea to get a free copy of your credit report and to correct any erroneous items of information in it.   Erroneous items of information in your credit report may cause other landlords to refuse to rent to you also. 

Also, if you know what your credit report says, you may be able to explain any problems when you fill out the rental application. For example, if you know that your credit report says that you never paid a bill, you can provide a copy of the canceled check to show the landlord that you did pay it. 

The landlord probably will consider your credit score in deciding whether to rent to you. Your credit score is a numerical score that is based on information from a credit reporting agency. Landlords and other creditors use credit scores to gauge how likely a person is to meet his or her financial obligations, such as paying rent. You can request your credit score when you request your credit report (you may have to pay a fee for the score), or purchase your score from a vendor.

SOURCE: California Department of Consumer Affairs