Updated February 2022
Every year, more landlords rely on tenant screening reports to get the information needed while reviewing and comparing rental applications. Sometimes, however, the data gathered through tenant screening isn’t easy to interpret.
As tenant screening coordinators, we get landlords calling into our office all the time, asking us questions about rental judgments and what they mean on tenant screening reports.
Have you ever run a background check only to see that a tenant had an eviction rental judgment against them? Did this influence your decision on whether to rent to that individual?
Rental judgments are serious, but what exactly do these judgments mean? Understanding what the terminology represents will ensure you make the right tenant selection. Learn more in today’s complete guide.
A Table Of Contents On Rental Judgments
Rental judgments, the result of evictions, are included on many background checks for up to seven years. As a landlord, using this information while making your decision is important, but you first must understand what this information means. Keep learning now:
- What Is A Rental Judgment?
- How To Use Rental Judgment Information For Tenant Screening
- FAQs: How To Get Evictions Off A Rental History & More
- Beyond Screening
There are a variety of judgments that can show up on an individual’s civil and credit records. Which judgment shows up on which report depends on the specific type of judgment.
Generally speaking, a judgment represents a court’s decision in money, possession, and other civil matters. The most common financial judgments seen are filed by credit card companies, banks, and past landlords still owed back rent or money for damages.
Rental-related judgments come in two primary forms: eviction judgments and money judgments.
Most of the time, the phrase “rental judgment” refers to an eviction judgment. An individual with an eviction judgment on their record has been evicted by a court hearing from a previous rental.
Eviction judgments are only added to an individual’s record after court proceedings. If an eviction is filed but the tenant leaves before anything makes it to a court hearing, there will be no judgment on file as no official judgment will have been made.
The other type of rental-related judgment you may see on a tenant background report is a money judgment from a previous landlord. A money judgment is filed when there is a civil case for damages or money is owed, and the judge decides in favor of the creditor.
For example, a tenant with no apparent eviction history may have a money judgment from a previous landlord for back rent. This means that while they didn’t go to court for an eviction case, they were likely evicted and still owe their last landlord money.
In most cases, a judgment is reportable for up to seven years. The only thing stopping us from reporting one during that time is if the tenant applicant has successfully paid the amount owed and a release has been filed.
If a money judgment shows up on a tenant background report you receive, then the money is still owed and can be collected at any point. In the case of eviction judgments, those will remain on an individual’s record for seven years or until it is expunged.
Depending on the type of judgment, certain standard information will accompany the judgment’s record:
- Date of the filing
- Applicant’s name, Social Security number, and address at the time of filing
- Creditor name (for a money judgment)
- Attorney information (if available)
- Basic reason for eviction (for eviction judgment)
- If the judgment is ongoing or if it is closed (note that satisfied judgments are often removed from records, so most that you see on reports will be ongoing)
If you have more questions about the judgment, you can ask the applicant if they are willing to share more details. Alternatively, you may see if the records are publicly accessible. In some regions, you can simply contact the local civil court to get the information you need to decide on a tenant.
A history of judgments can be found at your local courts, though every region will have its own rules and regulations on how this must be done. While it’s cost-effective to search for the records yourself, the main challenge is the search scope.
Remember that the only records you will find at any particular courthouse are the records that originated there. If your applicant is from another state, city or town, or county, you’re missing a whole lot of information.
One trick of the trade that we use is an identity development report or an address history search to see where else the applicant has lived. This can help you determine if you’ll need to search records from additional courthouses.
After going through your usual screening process, you might get back a credit report as well as a tenant background check. Viewing the background check might leave you with some questions. You see a lot of information, such as rental judgments, but what exactly should you do with it?
Understanding the information is just as important as having access to it.
Ask yourself the following questions as you consider if the applicant is a good fit for your rental property:
First, look at what type of judgment shows up. Is it a possession judgment for an eviction case, a money judgment from a past landlord, or something else altogether?
Once you know the type of judgment, you can consider how much it matters. An eviction judgment from five years ago carries less weight than multiple money judgments from past landlords.
Several ongoing judgments for a considerable amount of money likely means bad news, while one judgment from many years ago isn’t as big a deal. Individuals that continually find themselves facing judgments are likely struggling to find stability, and they might not be a great fit for your rental business.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much each judgment matters. However, once you make that decision, make sure that you apply the same perspective when reviewing all judgments, to avoid being biased in your approach to any particular application.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, most people do not permanently live in one place or have everything conveniently filed in one location. Of course, using the right tenant screening and background check company is probably the best way to ensure you’re getting the right information.
Learning how to look up evictions is certainly possible, but hiring a tenant screening company that provides eviction data is more efficient and effective.
Tenant screening services at RentPrep come in many forms, and you can choose to get eviction data along with other essential tenant screening information. Learn more about our pricing and packages right now.
Tenants who have gone through evictions or had to pay back rent after leaving a lease early may question how to get a judgment removed from their rental history. As a landlord, you might also be curious about how to remove an eviction from rental history. Understanding how this can and cannot be done can help you make better tenant screening choices in the future, and you can also help educate tenants.
In most cases, judgments are only removed after a certain number of years or if the judgment is considered no longer relevant for another reason.
For example, a tenant who owes back rent to a landlord will have a money judgment on their record until it is paid off. After that time, a court system may have it removed, but it is more likely to remain on a credit report as a satisfied judgment until the record-keeping period expires.
Eviction judgments will remain on a tenant’s record for seven years in most cases. In some cases, eviction judgments can be expunged if the court reverses its decision or determines it should no longer be on record. If a tenant believes their record should be cleared of a judgment, they should contact the civil court in question and find out what that process involves.
When it comes to a credit report, all money judgments will remain on the record until they can no longer be reported. Usually, this is for a period of seven to 10 years. Even after a money judgment for something like back rent has been paid off and is considered satisfied, it may remain on a credit report.
While there is some overlap between the terms, it’s essential to understand the difference between eviction and an eviction judgment.
Eviction refers to the process of a landlord exerting their rights over their property, to ask a tenant to leave before the rental period is over because of a lease violation. Even if the tenant leaves without going to court, this is still an eviction.
When a tenant does not leave of their own volition and a landlord files for eviction, this may result in an eviction judgment. An eviction judgment is given when a court decides that the tenant has violated their lease and needs to vacate the property. Eviction judgments have the backing and proof of a court, while a court has not confirmed a general eviction.
What does this mean for you as a landlord?
That’s your decision, but here’s what we recommend you consider: Balance your choice based on what the applicant discloses, how many judgments there are, and how long it has been since those judgments were made.
Consider these situations.
If an applicant tells you they have been evicted, but there is no eviction judgment on their record, they may be an honest individual who has learned from their past mistakes. If an applicant doesn’t disclose a past eviction and has multiple judgments on record, they may not be the best fit for your rental.
Wondering what happens to tenants after they receive an eviction judgment? There’s no doubt that they may see several rental rejection letters in the future, but where are they going to go?
Even if you feel confident in your decision to evict someone, you may also feel some level of responsibility for affecting their rental record and future background checks. Remember, however, that they made the decisions that led to their court-approved eviction.
There are also many second chance apartments rented out by landlords who are willing to take on high-risk tenants in exchange for higher rent, larger security deposits, and other protections. Even with an eviction on record, these tenants will find second chance housing. You, however, have no obligation to be the one who provides it.
How far back rental history goes depends on the location, the landlord, the background check service, and the type of history being checked. Each factor varies and has its own rules about how long things can stay on record.
Generally speaking, however, things like evictions, money judgments, and other credit-related issues show up on credit reports for seven years. Some rental history will only show up for five years, and other information will last for 10 years.
If an applicant or tenant seems concerned about something that showed up on their report, remind them that they can receive a copy of the report by contacting the provider you used. From there, they can dispute any inaccurate information from the source and hopefully get things resolved.
Landlords hope that all information provided on a rental application will be accurate, but unfortunately, some people choose to lie on these forms. In some cases, these lies will go unnoticed. However, they are easily spotted in many cases when you run a background check and cross-reference the information.
For example, some applicants may lie about their last rental address to avoid mentioning that they were evicted from their previous apartment. However, by looking at their background check report, it will be easy to cross-reference the dates and see that eviction was part of their hidden rental history.
Applicants should always be encouraged to be honest about their rental history, even if everything isn’t pretty. This honestly gives them a better shot at securing a rental than being caught in a lie. If an applicant is honest with you about their poor rental history, take their application seriously as you decide if you are willing and able to take a risk on them as a tenant. Their honesty points to good things, but only you can make the final call.
While some tenant screening options give you easy decision-making parameters to follow, landlords must know what the information on a tenant background report means. From eviction filings to possession judgments, there are a variety of legal terms that may come up in these reports.
By taking time to learn more about them today, you’ve ensured that you can make solid and unbiased decisions when choosing the right tenants for your rental properties.
Are you going to put a higher priority on researching rental judgments moving forward? Let us know your thoughts on how much this information matters in the comments below.