The 411 on Resident Screening

Last Updated: August 31, 2012By

Provided by | written by Philip Christian

When it comes to selecting a resident screening service, there’s no shortage of choices. One way asset managers can whittle down their choices is to evaluate screening providers based on the quality of their search data. At a minimum, a national or multi-state criminal and landlord/tenant court record search provider should offer the following:

1) All-inclusive search coverage

2) I.D. reality checks

3) Built-in compliance


Traditional search methods tend to favor the database search or the Follow-Me search—neither of which comes close to being all-inclusive. A truly comprehensive search involves a combination of both.

Database search

The database search favors what some screening providers like to call a “national database of criminal records;” however, to call this database “national” is misleading. The term “national” implies that the criminal records of the entire nation are at one’s disposal. The reality is that there is no national database of criminal records, despite what you see on TV shows like “NCIS” and “CSI.” So-called database searches are a loose assemblage of electronic databases cobbled together from state to state. These state databases often fail to include records from all counties in the state, typically because not all counties make their records available for electronic search.

Follow-Me search

Another approach is the Follow-Me type search, which is based on the faulty premise that one only needs to search the most recent geographic area where a renter claims to have lived. This presents a problem in that renters with a criminal history are not going to volunteer information that, if discovered, will prevent them from renting. Therefore, as long as criminals do not live or attempt to live in the state or county where they are being charged with crimes, the records will never be discovered by a Follow-Me search.

On-Site’s unique approach: all-inclusive search

On-Site’s all-inclusive search takes the best aspects of the database search and the Follow‑Me search and combines these with patented search methodology to create a new breed of criminal search. On-Site is not a subsidiary of a data clearinghouse like Lexis Nexis or TransUnion, which allows us to choose from best in class and specialized regional criminal data providers. The end result is an instant search comprising reports on felony and misdemeanor convictions and outstanding warrants reaching over 94% of the populated U.S.

On-Site deploys a manual records search whenever a renter has resided in an area where it has historically been difficult to perform an instant background check due to limited access to criminal records. Even with the manual search component, more than 50% of On-Site’s criminal searches are returned instantly and another 30% in the next six hours. For those areas that necessitate longer wait times, we allow our clients to adjust their company settings to either automatically opt out of searches in these areas in order to save on the expense, or to time out the search if it takes more than a designated number of days.


Let’s now address the I.D. reality check factor of the comprehensive criminal and landlord/tenant court record search. As touched on earlier, renters that have a past criminal history or landlord/tenant court records are not going to volunteer information that, if discovered, will prevent them from renting an apartment. As such, a comprehensive search should not accept identifying factors provided by renters at face value.

On-Site solves the problem of misidentification by running a skip trace search on all renters using their Social Security Number, which yields address histories that go back decades and any related landlord/tenant court records (the legally reportable timeframe for reporting landlord/tenant court records is seven years under the FCRA, and On-Site automates compliance with this law). The skip trace search has the added benefit of revealing aliases associated with an SSN and any criminal records attached to those aliases.


Finally, let’s talk about built-in compliance checks. A comprehensive search must include built-in safeguards against Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations. As was just mentioned, On-Site complies with FCRA imposed data reporting limitations on criminal and eviction searches.

Furthermore, unlike other criminal search services that provide a manual search option only on a per-applicant basis at the discretion of the leasing agent or property manager, On-Site automatically deploys manual record searches based on pre-defined company policy. Potentially biased, individual decision making is removed from the screening process. Without built-in compliance, like that offered by On-Site, there’s simply no way for management companies to ensure that employees comply with official company leasing practices. Leasing agents can choose to run a criminal background check (or not) based on their own subjective reasoning, which may open up an owner or management company to an increased number of fair housing complaints, not to mention the criminal offenders who could slip through.

In summary, when it comes to resident screening, how do you pick the right provider? Look for the one with the most comprehensive search capabilities. Specifically, one that offers all-inclusive search coverage, I.D. reality checks and built-in compliance.


On-Site is teaching the real estate industry something Apple and Google learned years ago: usability is king. At On-Site, that means bringing the apartment industry up to speed with what today’s consumer expects from an online experience. Conveniently and securely, we allow today’s renter to find an available apartment, qualify and pay for it and then e-sign the lease. Our 100% paperless listing-to-lease platform encompasses marketing, lead generation, risk mitigation, document storage, mobile solutions and cloud computing services. Founded in 1999, the company has been voted Best Resident Screening Service three years in a row and its paperless office platform was a finalist in the First Annual Green Initiatives Awards from Multi-Housing News. For more information about leasing solutions from On-Site, visit www.on‑

Email:  ● Phone: (888) 556-6748


Philip L Christian is an apartment industry technology writer at On‑ Philip writes about On-Site products as well as trends affecting On‑Site’s clients. Philip holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is pursuing a Master’s degree in English from San Jose State University. Outside of the office, Philip is an avid renter with no plans to buy a home. You can read more of Philip’s musings on the apartment industry at The Buzz, On‑Site’s blog. Visit



Email Subscription

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Apartment News Publications. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact