Florida Background Checks

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Florida Background Checks

Background checks are a vital part of thorough tenant screening. Every landlord needs to know the history of every applicant. Background checks give you a good idea of whether someone makes payment on time, stays out of massive debt, has a criminal past, and a lot more.

 

Background checks reduce the chances of tenant turnover, protect you from liability, and help you and other tenants remain safe.

 

In this article, we’ll help you understand what background checks consist of, how to ensure you get the information you need, and what you need to know about your state’s rules regarding them. 

What are Background Checks?

  1. Credit Report: Aside from a lease agreement, a tenant credit might be the most crucial document for a landlord to understand. This document is one of the best ways to determine whether someone will pay on time and in full. Here are the main components of a credit report:
    • Basic information like former names/aliases, current and previous addresses, etc.
    • Fraud indicators like invalid phone numbers or phony social security numbers
    • Tradeline summaries that give a snapshot of an applicant’s active accounts
    • Inquiries that show a list of companies who viewed an applicant’s credit file over the last two years
    • Credit/resident score
    • Winter weather damage

    The credit score and the resident score are key. A credit score is a numerical value anywhere from 300-850 that helps illuminate an applicant’s creditworthiness. If an applicant has a score of 500 or less, proceed with caution. Most reliable tenants will ave a score above 560. A resident score is similar to a credit score, but more directly reflects someone’s reliability as a tenant. Both scores are proprietary, so the exact formulas aren’t available to the public. That said, resident scores typically include a recommendation on whether to accept an applicant or not (this shouldn’t be treated as gospel obviously, but it’s helpful).

  2. Criminal History: Wide-sweeping national databases, more narrow specific state databases, and granular county records are the main elements of most criminal history reports.
  3. Income Verification: There are several ways to verify income. Let’s look at some of the most common here: whether someone will pay on time and in full. Here are the main components of a credit report:
    • Pay Stubs: Paychecks are the most common way to verify income. Anyone with full-time or part-time employment can make copies of paychecks and send them to you.
    • Yearly Tax Returns: A federal tax return is another option to obtain proof of income. This is often an excellent option because it’s an official legal document, so it’s difficult to fake.
    • W-2 Tax Form: These forms show employer’s withholding payroll taxes from workers’ earnings. This is another good option because it’s a document directly from an employer.
    • Bank Statements: This method is especially effective for self-employed applicants because they won’t have regular pay stubs like those who work for traditional businesses.

    Important Note: Innago’s new income verification feature, which you can learn more about here, makes it easier than ever to ensure your tenants have the necessary funds to pay you

  4. Eviction History: Except in cases where overdue rent went to collections or a previous landlord reports late payments, credit reports don’t usually show evictions.  Federal law typically prevents evictions from being shown on a background check after seven years, but this figure varies by state
    If you cannot see an applicant’s eviction history on a credit report or obtain the information by contacting their previous landlords, then you may pull an eviction report. However, certain states have restrictions on different kinds of reports (we’ll address those if they’re relevant later in this piece).
    Eviction history matters because the cost of an eviction for landlords is often between $4,000 and $7,000 or more. That means that if a tenant was evicted, they likely left their previous landlord with no other choice.
  5. Application: A rental application is a preliminary form used to obtain basic information about an applicant and their eligibility. Most applications ask for this information:
    • Landlord References: Contact previous landlords and get their take on applicants. This is a critical step that some landlords skip over. Make sure you’re not one of those landlords.
    • Employment History: You want to know current and former employers and get consent to contact them.
    • Written Permission to Run a Credit Check
    • Legal Disclosures: Here’s a helpful article on what disclosures to include.
    • Additional Inquiries: Be careful here. Make sure you don’t ask questions that violate laws. Only ask about things like pets or smoking. And make sure you’re consistent.

Why Do You Need to Run Background Checks?

Background checks in general are utilized by a variety of groups: landlords, employers, lenders, licensing agencies, government agencies, etc. Tenant screening or employment background checks are run to ensure that a candidate for a job, license, property, or loan is properly qualified and does not have a history of behavior that would interfere with their ability to perform the duties required under contract. Background checks minimize legal liability, protect companies’ assets and current employees, and are sometimes required by clients.

 

When it comes to landlords, background checks are needed to: 

    • Protect the safety and property of other tenants
    • Reduce tenant turnover
    • Minimize legal liability
    • Increase the likelihood of on-time rental payments
    • Avoid conflict and crime in the rental community
    • Narrow down applicants for a high-demand property
    • Prevent expensive and lengthy eviction processes

Florida Background Checks

Landlords in the Sunshine State should run a Florida background check on potential tenants as a precaution and general policy. Here are three reasons to run background checks in Florida:  

  1. Identify rental application fraud  

Rental application fraud, which occurs when a tenant lies on their application or submits falsified pay stubs, bank statements, etc., is on the rise in Florida. Miami alone has a 10% rental application fraud rate, which is the 8th highest rate of all metropolitan areas in the U.S. Running a Florida background check can help you catch fraudulent documents and inconsistent information before someone moves into your property, lowering your chances of dealing with an expensive eviction later.  

  1. Avoid future evictions  

Running a tenant’s eviction history in Florida can also help you avoid evictions for nonpayment or criminal activity. Evicting a tenant in Florida isn’t a fun process and can take between one and three weeks. And, because tenants with a previous eviction are more likely to be evicted again, understanding an applicant’s eviction history is essential for avoiding turnover.   

  1. Learn about the existence or nature of illegal activity  

It’s also important to run criminal background checks in Florida. Per the Florida Department of Corrections, the recidivism rate is over 60%. While landlords cannot have a blanket policy for denying citizens with a criminal history record, certain crimes (like sex crimes) restrict housing options and can be valid reasons to deny a tenant. It’s important to conduct background checks because it helps you understand potential tenants better. 

What do Background Checks in Florida Cost?

Background checks are fairly affordable across the U.S., but their costs vary depending on the area searched and the level of information requested. Searching national records typically costs between $13-60 per person, while searching an individual state’s records like Florida typically costs between $10 and $30 per person (e.g., a criminal history report from Florida Department of Law Enforcement is $24). County records, which tend to be more accurate and up to date, cost $16-$25 per person per county checked. You can learn more about each of these specific types of background checks in our article on the topic 

Which Laws Apply to Florida Background Checks?

Florida background checks cannot be used by anyone for any purpose. Due to fair housing protections, the use of credit reports and criminal background checks is restricted.  

Based on Florida background check laws, it’s typically legal to deny a prospective tenant based on the results of their criminal background check, but you must inform them, and it must be clear how their record makes them dangerous to other tenants or neighbors. Always remember that tenants must provide written consent to a background check GA considers compliant before you can run one.  

In Florida, there are two kinds of background checks: Level one and level two. 

What is a level one background check in Florida? A level one check limits searches to state and name. They involve an applicant’s employment history and state and local criminal history. Beyond that, they also check whether an applicant is on the national sex offender registry. They may include a credit check as well. 

What is a level two background check in Florida? A level two check requires fingerprinting and involves a full FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement background check. Level two background checks are typically for people applying for positions in healthcare, law enforcement, childcare, and education. 

One extremely important law directly related to landlords and property managers in Florida is Miya’s Law. The Florida government enacted this law because of a tragic murder of a 19-year-old college student committed by an apartment complex maintenance worker. 

The law requires all landlords, property managers, and property management companies to conduct extremely thorough background checks on all prospective employees, including a criminal background check and sex offender registry checks that encompass all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  

As for Florida employment background checks, under §112.011, Fla. Stat. (2021), public employers cannot deny applicants based only on low-level criminal convictions, but they can deny employment based on felony or first-degree misdemeanor convictions that relate to the job. 

Under §775.16, Fla. Stat. (2021), people with felony drug convictions cannot work at state agencies (there are exceptions involving completion of rehabilitation programs). 

Florida isn’t a ban-the-box state, but certain areas have adopted the policy. This policy prevents employers from asking about criminal history during the pre-employment background check initial on job applications.  

Before you run a background check FL, be sure to research state and local background check laws and federal regulations. And, if you’re unsure about something, seek professional legal advice. Keep in mind that while all Florida counties are subject to state laws and executive orders, some counties may enforce additional regulations. Additionally, you must get written consent from a tenant before running a background check. Be sure you’re educated on the law in your region and adhere to the HUD’s recommendations 

How far back do Background Checks in Florida go?

When you use consumer reports to make tenant decisions, you must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). 

  

Section § 605 – 15 U.S.C. § 1681c of The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies in all 50 states and mandates a seven-year restriction on reporting certain background check information like civil suits, civil judgments, and arrest records (except in certain cases where an employer is hiring for a job with a salary more than $75,000). The FCRA doesn’t have similar timeline restrictions on criminal convictions, but some states restrict reporting conviction information at the local level. 

 

A Florida criminal background check can go back indefinitely regarding criminal records with convictions, although the relevant restrictions of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) must still be respected. Most non-conviction information is capped at seven years.  

How to Run Background Checks in Florida?

When you need to conduct background checks in Florida, most people either conduct a DIY background check or use a third-party provider. If you run a DIY background check, your best bet is probably to request criminal history from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Division of Criminal Justice Information Services, contact an applicant’s former landlords and employers, obtain a credit report (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting agencies that compile credit information), verify income, look at the sex offender registry, and ensure you have all the information you need to conduct thorough tenant screening. DIY checks can be risky, though, because it’s easier to run afoul or relevant laws inadvertently (unless you’re very well-versed in the law). 

The better option for running a background check is to partner with a third-party provider. They often bundle credit, resident, criminal, and eviction histories together as a package. You can select the kind of reporting you need and let the third-party take care of the collection process. 

Background Checks with Innago

At Innago, we’ve partnered with TransUnion SmartMove to help you review background check information and identify high quality applicants. Running a background check through Innago allows you to quickly and easily identify the best applicants and ensure their application information is accurate. Likewise, Innago’s income verification feature helps our users verify reported income by connecting to their bank account, payroll provider, or by uploading documents. 

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend you consult with professional counsel if you have legal questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with relevant laws.