As credit-scoring changes, landlords may find themselves in the dark.
Most landlords consider working with tenants with less-than-perfect credit part of the job description, particularly when interest rates are low and a higher proportion of high-credit individuals are opting to buy. Tenants with less-than-stellar credit but a high motivation to pay rent on time and remain in place for the long haul can be great residents, making identifying and accepting their applications a profitable strategy. However, with increasingly limited information available (for example, some cities now prohibit criminal background checks and certain types of unpaid debts are no longer permissible in credit scoring), landlords find themselves increasingly reliant on proof-of-income and traditional credit scores to make predictions about their applicants.
“When you remove certain components from any type of score, that score becomes a little less comprehensive,” explained Tyler Sawyer, vice president of rentals & real estate at Equifax. “That hurts the applicant and it hurts the landlord because it makes that potential resident appear to be a bigger risk, on paper, than they actually are.”
“When our clients encounter thin credit reports, we recommend they try to determine, within the bounds of local regulations, other forms of stability in an applicant’s life,” said Linda Liberatore, president of Secure Pay One, a web-based rental management company serving active landlords nationwide.
“You might verify not just income but also time-on-job, how long they spent at their last apartment, and how many line items in their credit history have been paid off. In some cases, landlords will even ask for up to six months of checking account statements to get an idea about spending patterns, but you need to check with a legal advisor before requesting that,” she added.
“Remember, utility bills and cellphone payments may not appear on credit scoring analyses,” Sawyer pointed out, noting Equifax works closely with data-management firms to try to “flesh out” thin reports with this type of information.
“To be truly useful, a credit report needs to be about a lot more than just a payment cycle and whether you paid your major credit cards. For a landlord’s purposes, it needs to be about whether you pay reliably on things that are most important to you, which usually include utilities, rent, and cell phones or car payments,” Sawyer said.
A note from Think Realty: Renters’ and landlords’ rights and associated legislation and regulations vary widely from state to state and even city to city. Work with a locally informed professional to make sure your practices meet code in each market where you screen potential tenants.