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News of bad check still bouncing around

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Special to The Times

Question: I was turned down for an apartment after the landlord ran my rental application because I bounced a check last year. How did they know? What else can they find out?

Answer: Welcome to the 21st century of data retrieval.

Thanks to the Internet, landlords can find out a variety of personal data. How did the landlord know about yours? By using one or more of the screening services available through various apartment owner associations.

According to John Galbraith, communications director for the California Apartment Assn., “Fair housing practices start with the application process.” The group recommends that landlords screen all applicants equally and offers its members many such services.

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What can they check? A virtual cornucopia of options now exists.

Choices range from the basic “just credit” to a complete search designed to uncover past evictions, criminal convictions or court actions, job status and Social Security number abuse.

A basic credit and eviction report is obtained by the landlord by calling his or her member reporting agency. Before the information is shared, confirmation of proper use is required. Usually within 10 minutes, a faxed copy of the report is in the hands of the requesting party.

Traditionally, “just credit” and evictions were the most common searches that landlords utilized. A standard report includes a listing of all open and closed credit lines, including credit cards, loans and incurred debt. If the account was closed at the lender’s request, a notation is included.

Inquiries by other interested parties are also listed on the report. For example, if the potential tenant has applied for several credit cards, the name of the company and date of credit request is listed on the report. Seeking multiple rentals at once can also be found at a glance.

The “profile summary,” usually found on the first page of the report, can reveal at a glance key credit items. Evictions, past-due amounts, current and past delinquent accounts and the total amount of money owed by the applicant are listed.

When landlords decide to use a more advanced tenant screening service, they are likely to get such information as character references, involvement in civil cases and criminal convictions. Because this is sensitive information -- and to give potential tenants a chance to opt out of the application process -- landlords must notify them of their intent to order such screening.

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Reader comments may be sent to hmayspitz@aol.com.

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