Tenant Screening in Maryland

Some benevolent landlords are willing to take a chance on a tenant who has a less-than-ideal background, especially when that person is likable or charming. However, a potential tenant’s criminal history, credit score, and rental history shouldn’t be disregarded, which makes tenant screening in Maryland a must for all landlords.

People with a history of being evicted, or who have broken leases in the past, cannot be counted on for consistent, timely payment of rent. There are plenty of other warning signs indicating that a tenant may be problematic, most of which can be revealed through a good screening process.

Warning Signs

Sometimes, landlords can tell almost immediately when an applicant could become a problem tenant. Some warning signs are when applicants:

  • Either can’t pay for or attempt to delay payment of their security deposit
  • Have a sporadic work history or frequent work changes – a person who has prior gaps in employment could end up unemployed and unable to pay rent
  • Are unable to provide references or contact information for previous landlords.

The application itself is a screening process – ideally, a tenant should have a steady job history, good rental history, and be earning about three times the monthly rent payment. If someone looks good on paper, and no warning signs are present, a landlord typically begins a more thorough investigation of the applicant.

Preliminary Vetting

Paying for a company to conduct tenant screening is the best way for landlords to get a comprehensive overview of a tenant’s past. But by doing some preliminary research, landlords may find enough information to indicate a tenant is high-risk, even before a formal screening process.

A Google search of an applicant’s name could reveal mug shots, news reports, or public records that indicate the applicant has a criminal past. It’s not a scientific method – landlords may find their search turns up nothing relevant. But sometimes a Google search provides enough information for a landlord to rule out an applicant.

Credit History

Each of the three major credit unions offers a different type of tenant-screening service. Briefly, these are the components of each:

  • Experian – Offers a free credit score check that includes information about debts, collections, and employment history.
  • TransUnion – Charges a fee for tenant screening, but includes a criminal background check along with recommendations about whether a co-signer should be required and what the deposit amount should be (in Maryland, the deposit may not exceed the amount of two months’ rent).
  • Equifax – Offers an inexpensive background check that confirms a tenant’s identity and credit score.

Maryland landlords may charge a non-refundable application fee of $25 to cover the cost of background or credit checks. If the fee exceeds $25, a landlord must refund any portion not used for application processing.

On Criminal Backgrounds

Some landlords may decide that misdemeanors don’t necessarily disqualify a person from becoming a tenant. However, repeat offenses – such as multiple DWI convictions – could reveal a pattern of behavior that creates questions about a person’s ability to hold a job and make responsible financial decisions.

In multi-family units, many landlords don’t want tenants with a history of violence, theft, or drug trafficking. Even though people may have served their time for those offenses and seem to be rehabilitated, a landlord can’t be certain the person’s friends and acquaintances have followed the same path.

Landlords generally are not considered responsible for tenants’ criminal behavior, but there are exceptions – especially when a landlord knowingly rents to someone with a criminal past. And if tenants are engaged in drug trafficking, landlords could find their rental property seized as evidence in criminal cases.

Keeping bad tenants from moving in is a lot easier than getting them out. That’s why proper screening is so important.

Lusk Law, LLC specializes in assisting landlords, helping to avoid litigation when possible and actively representing our clients in court when litigation is necessary. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to landlords in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, Anne Arundel County, and other counties in Maryland. With over a decade of experience in representing landlords, we’re ready to offer a consultation concerning your rights. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.

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