renter filling out a portable tenant screening report and paying for it online

Portable Tenant Screening Report: A Comprehensive Guide

Portable tenant screening reports (PTSRs) might not be the most common topic in landlording circles, but as more states look to recognize these reports, they’re bound to become more prevalent. 

In in-demand markets, landlords often receive multiple applicants for their vacant properties. Applicants whom landlords feel could be a good fit are screened to illuminate their credit, background, and eviction history. If the renter passes muster, the landlord can approve their application, but of course, not every person who applies will move in. 

Renters could lose a chunk of change if they experience a string of denials and have to pay a new fee for every application. So, legislative bodies have introduced the concept of portable, aka reusable, screening reports offering renters a reprieve.

For landlords, the new legislation can be confusing. To help ease the burden, we’ll discuss what these reports are, tips to avoid fraud, which states currently have legislation on the books, and how you can move forward. 

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What are Portable Screening Reports?

Portable screening reports, or reusable tenant screenings, are credit and background checks that tenants obtain themselves and then share with potential landlords rather than going through individual, landlord-directed screening processes. These self-service reports are usually good for 30 days. 

Renters can also receive reports from landlords who deny their applications. In this case, the individual can simply request that the landlord email the report. Once they have it, prospective tenants can easily submit it to other landlords when looking for housing, simplifying the application process.

That’s the goal, at least. Landlords don’t always have to accept the report, as we discuss below in our states section.

Standard Information on Reusable Tenant Screening Reports

Just because renters can submit reports multiple times doesn’t mean the data on them differs from a standard tenant screening. You’ll still find critical information like:

  • Identity verification
  • Credit history
  • Employment verification
  • Criminal history (where allowed)
  • Sex offender registry checks
  • National terrorist watchlists (where allowed)
  • SSN verification
  • Income information

These data points are essential to helping landlords avoid financial hardship brought on by unfit tenants, which can ultimately lead to an eviction. It isn’t overly expensive to file an eviction; paperwork filing fees run between $50 and $250 — but unpaid rent, property damage, and lost time cost much more. 

So, no matter the source of your report, you’ll want to examine the details to ensure you’re protecting yourself from undue harm. 

Five Tips to Avoid Tenant Screening Fraud

As this new way of screening becomes more widely used, there is potential for misuse. Here are five tips to help you avoid fraud.  

  1. Scrutinize the Report: Check for inconsistencies and verify the source by making sure the report comes from a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)-compliant agency or third-party website. Look for any signs of tampering, including inconsistent formatting and fonts. 
  2. Verify Independently: It’s crucial to confirm employment (with renter approval) and contact past landlords to validate the information on the PTSR. This step assures you that the information provided is accurate and reliable. Be wary of applicants who seem reluctant to undergo independent verification.
  3. Go Beyond the Report: If there is any doubt, run your own credit check (with renter approval). You may have to foot the bill to complete this process, but it’s better than getting duped. 
  4. Contact Previous Landlords: Reach out to past landlords mentioned in the report to verify the renter’s rental history, including payment habits and compliance with lease agreement stipulations. 
  5. Stay Informed: Check with landlord associations or government agencies to stay current on the latest scams and red flags associated with tenant screening. 

Now that we’ve discussed what to look out for, if you’re a landlord in one of the following states, portable tenant screening reports will likely be involved in your future vacancy-filling processes. 

Reusable Tenant Screening Reports by State

Let’s take a look at six states that currently allow portable reports. The common thread is that if a landlord accepts a reusable report, they cannot charge an application fee. 

Colorado

In TurboTenant’s home state, landlords must accept reusable tenant screening reports, provided the renter pulled the report within the last 30 days. There are exceptions, which we’ll get to below. 

The report must include:

  • Income and employment verification
  • Rental and credit history
  • Criminal history

Before requiring any tenant to provide an application fee for screening reports, a landlord must inform renters that they accept such reports and are not allowed to charge any fees to tenants who provide their own.

However, if a landlord only accepts one application fee at a time for a unit, and refunds the fee to each applicant who is declined within 20 days, they are not required to accept outside screening reports or provide the aforementioned information.

Additionally, if a prospective tenant’s application leads to the landlord obtaining a report, the landlord must share a copy of it with the prospective tenant and inform them of their right to dispute any inaccuracies with the reporting agency.

If a landlord doesn’t follow the law, they’re liable for $2,500, court costs, and attorney fees. However, if the landlord cures the violation within seven days after receiving notice, they’ll have to pay the potential tenant $50. 

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that, but those are the general rules; if you want to read more, visit Portable Screening Report for Residential Leases, an official Colorado state government document. 

California

In California, PTSRs are called reusable tenant screening reports. They also stipulate that the report must be no older than 30 days, and it must include the following information:

  • A criminal history check going back seven years
  • Eviction history check seven years preceding report submission
  • Verification of employment
  • Applicant’s last known address

It’s important to note that this bill merely introduces the concept of reusable reports; it doesn’t force landlords to accept them. If a landlord does accept, however, they can ask about material changes to the report that may affect eviction status or another factor. 

For more information, be sure to check out California Assembly Bill 2559.

Maryland

Like California, Maryland landlords are not required to accept PTSRs. However, they must provide notice that they do or do not accept these forms. Landlords can disclose that information on a rental housing listing, website, online rental application, and other “reasonable” forms of notification.

The report must be no older than 30 days and include standard information like:

  • Comprehensive criminal history dating back seven years
  • Eviction history for the previous seven years
  • Employment and income verification
  • Current address and rental history

Like California, landlords who accept reusable reports can ask about material changes.  Naturally, there is more to it than just this short blurb; you can get all the details in Senate Bill 691.

Rhode Island

Unlike the previously listed states, Rhode Island’s law stipulates that tenants can use a report older than 30 days, expanding the timeframe to 90 days. Rhode Island’s focus is to declare that landlords can’t demand payment for an application fee. 

If prospective tenants do not provide a report, landlords in the state can obtain one at the prospective tenant’s cost. However, they’re not allowed to charge more than the report actually costs the landlord. 

If the tenant lets the landlord handle the screening, they must receive a copy of the background check and credit report. More information is available here

Illinois

Illinois’ bill HB3062 features much of the same language surrounding screening reports. The bill allows landlords to accept reusable reports; the report must be no older than 30 days. 

The report must include:

  • Name(s)
  • Contact information
  • Employment verification
  • Last known address
  • Results of an eviction history check consistent with applicable law

If a landlord accepts a report from a prospective tenant, they cannot charge an application fee. The landlord can also ask the tenant if there’s been a material change in the report since the date it was pulled. 

New York

Like Rhode Island, New York’s reusable legislation focuses on application fees. Unlike Rhode Island, the report must be no older than 30 days. Further, New York landlords cannot charge a fee if tenants provide their own background and credit checks. 

If the landlord provides the tenant with the report, they can charge a fee, but the fee cannot exceed the report’s actual cost. For more, visit this New York State Senate page

TurboTenant’s Approach to Tenant Screening

Credit-Score-Graphic

TurboTenant facilitates portable tenant screening by centralizing reports in a single location within the platform. From there, you can locate individual reports and save them as PDFs. Just go to print the report, but instead of printing it, save it as a PDF. 

This step is important in the case of a denial. A renter may request a copy of their screening report to use at other properties, or your state may require you to provide the report. The above process helps you do that quickly. Just email the saved PDF. But that’s just one side of the equation.

In states where you’re allowed to accept reusable reports, study the document carefully to ensure its authenticity using our tips above. If the renter can send the application from an FCRA-accredited website, that can help you ensure the information is accurate. Depending on the state, you can reject it and opt to re-screen the tenant. If they’re hesitant, be wary.

In all, tenant screening is just one aspect of the puzzle. To streamline your entire property management process, consider TurboTenant. With online rent collection, maintenance management, and lease generation, in addition to tenant screening, you’ll save significant amounts of time and money. Sign up today; it’s free

FAQ

How do I get a portable tenant screening report?

Renters in reusable tenant screening report states can use SmartMove to screen themselves. If you apply for a property, but get denied, ask the landlord to send you the report so you can use it to apply to another property. 

Where can I get a portable tenant screening report?

TurboTenant is a great place to screen tenants. After you’ve screened a renter in the platform, you can access the report from you dashboard, save it as a PDF, and send it to would-be tenants so they can use it again.

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