Credit Checks and Credit Reports

Many landlords in the University area use rental applications to check financial resources, credit histories, and past landlord-tenant relations. A landlord may use a credit bureau or a credit reporting service to obtain information about you. These businesses keep records on people’s credit histories. Their records show whether you have been late in paying rent or other bills and whether you have ever been the subject of an unlawful-detainer (eviction) lawsuit that you did not win.

A landlord will use this information to decide whether or not to rent to you. A landlord usually doesn’t have to give you a reason for refusing to rent to you. However, if the decision is based on negative reports from a credit bureau or credit-reporting agency, the law requires the landlord to give you the name of the credit bureau or credit-reporting service. The law also gives you certain rights to check the accuracy of the report and to correct any errors. A landlord may require a credit check on the parents of a minor student (younger than 18) or when a student’s financial resources or income are insufficient to qualify to rent the unit without a guarantor or cosigner. International students also may be requested to provide family or home-country financial information to qualify, or when a cosigner or guarantor is required.

Before you allow extensive and intrusive requests for information, learn what standards and procedures a landlord will use. The landlord must be consistent in using the same standards for all applicants—families, single students, international students, professors, or whomever. If you believe that a request is too extensive or intrusive, or if a landlord refuses to discuss the policy and procedure to be followed, you may decide not to rent from that landlord.

A landlord may ask you to pay for the credit report—usually $25 to $30. You should not pay it unless you feel the amount is reasonable and you are sure you want to rent the apartment. Very few landlords refund the fee if you change your mind about renting the unit. Before you agree to pay for a credit report, be sure that you understand the landlord’s policy. You should ask the landlord several questions about the credit-check fee.

  • Will the fee be applied to your first month’s rent if your credit report is positive and the landlord selects you as a tenant?
  • Will the fee be returned to you if the landlord doesn’t request a credit report on you?
  • How long will it take for the credit report to be obtained?
  • Is your fee refundable if the credit check takes too long and you are forced to take another place?

You may be asked to pay a deposit to “hold” the apartment. Be sure you understand the refund policy for this money as well. Rental deposits may be withheld if you do not take the apartment for any reason—including failing to qualify for approval. Pennsylvania law requires the return of a security deposit if it is so designated. When possible, only pay a deposit, either rental or security, when your application is approved. Paying a deposit to confirm a rental is appropriate at that time.

Understand what you are paying for and how the money will be handled, and always get a receipt. This will help you to avoid problems and will confirm your agreement to rent with a landlord.