Updated July 2023
Though tenant screening in Illinois may share some similarities with the rest of the country, it also entails some distinct practices that are specific to the state. This article will cover some of the most important questions that Illinois landlords have about selecting a tenant that is most suitable for their rental property.
Are you a landlord in Illinois? If yes, you will want to pay close attention to this post. We will be covering some key principals about tenant screening in your state, such as:
- Where to get free screening resources
- How the screening process actually works
- Just Housing Amendment in Cook County
- What you need to do to pick the best tenant screening service
Illinois Tenant Screening Laws
To ensure you are complying with all of the screening laws in Illinois, you will want to take some time to learn where and how things differ from some of the other states.
Here are just a few of the Illinois tenant screening laws:
- Illinois law doesn’t set a limit on how much landlords can charge for application fees
- The application fee is non-refundable
- There’s no limit to the amount that a landlord can charge for a security deposit
- Cook County landlords must perform the tenant screening process in a two-step manner (pre-qualification, and then criminal screening)
Remember that an application fee is never considered a part of the security deposit, which is refundable, minus deductions for damage and unpaid rent. If you want to provide a refund of the application fee for any reason, you can do that.
In April of 2019, Cook County celebrated the passing of the Just Housing Amendment. This will allow more than 1 million Illinois residents, with arrest and conviction records, a fair chance at being matched with a rental property. The Just Housing Amendment requires Cook County Landlords to divide their screening process into two parts.
The first part of the screening process will be pre-qualification. This step will include collecting the application fee, inspecting the rental application, and then analyze their eviction history, credit reports, employment, income, any financial delinquencies, bankruptcies, etc. The landlord may only move on to the second part of this process if the applicant passes pre-qualification.
If the applicant is pre-qualified, then the landlord can move on to step two. In this step, the landlord will be able to view the applicant’s criminal history. It is important to note that the Amendment only allows the landlord to consider the last three years of conviction history. This is different from the standard practice in the rest of the country, where seven years of conviction history are typically considered.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the Amendment explicitly excludes certain records from being considered for adverse action. The excluded records include charges, arrest records, violations, and sealed or expunged records. Landlords are prohibited from taking these factors into consideration when making any final decisions about selecting an applicant.
There is one exception to this three-year look-back rule, and that is for current sex offenders. Moreover, landlords may be allowed to consider the entire criminal history of a current sex offender, regardless of how many years ago they were convicted.
It is worth mentioning that the Just Housing Amendment only applies to Cook County residents, and the laws surrounding criminal records can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction. Always make sure to consult local laws and regulations to ensure compliance with applicable rules and requirements.
Don’t you want to learn more about the laws surrounding Illinois tenant screening? This site is the ultimate landlord-tenant source for Illinois law.
Never Make This Screening Mistake
Before you can do any kind of background check on an applicant, you must get a signed consent form. Without it, you won’t be able to investigate the applicant’s rental history, employment confirmation and more.
Be sure your rental application form has a specific section that requests a signed consent from the applicant so that you can legally run a background check.
For example, here is one of our forms used here at RentPrep.
First of all, make sure you point out that the application fee is non-refundable, as indicated by the first red arrow. Most applicants will ask about it.
Most of all, make sure that you get the signature of the applicant that grants consent to run a background check, as indicated by the second red arrow.
There are plenty of resources available for you as an Illinois landlord, and we are here to help you access them all.
Resources For Tenant Screening In Illinois:
These free forms and informative posts are among the best resources that will help you find a great tenant for your rental property.
- Move-In Move-Out checklist – This is helpful for after the tenant screening process to make sure you document the condition of the rental
- Summary of Your Rights Under the FCRA – Our screeners here at RentPrep are FCRA certified to ensure compliance on your screening report
- Illinois Tenants Guide – From the Illinois Attorney General’s Office
- Illinois Landlord-Tenant Statute and Codes – An in-depth look at the landlord-tenant regulations and rules enforced by the state of Illinois.
*Here’s a good tip for you to use in all your rental applications–a “No Blank Space” policy. This policy will require all applicants to fill out the necessary fields on the rental application. It is common that applicants who want to hide potentially disqualifying information such as their employment or rental history, pets, recent evictions, etc., will often leave those fields blank. If you insist on having no blank spaces on your application, you will be able to weed out the inadequate applicants right away.
Illinois Tenant Screening Process
Every landlord should create a list of screening criteria for each rental property. This is a list of must-have features that you want in your ideal applicant. It is important to always have copies of this list and some rental applications on hand for any interested applicants.
Your Illinois tenant screening criteria might include things like this:
- Absolutely no previous evictions
- No smoking or use of illegal substances
- Pets (yes or no, depending on breed, quantity, weight, etc.)
- Must earn at least three times the monthly rent
Your list can contain many things, but it cannot discriminate against the protected classes as outlined by HUD and the Fair Housing Act, such as race, gender, disability, etc. For more details, please visit hud.gov.
Stay consistent in your screening procedures. Never change your screening criteria to match an applicant so they may be accepted. Any deviations from your criteria could be seen as discrimination and could result in a lawsuit. Strongly sticking to your own criteria will help you find a great applicant for your property.
Remember that the tenant screening process remains mostly the same across the country, but Illinois landlords definitely need to remember details like this:
- Some areas in the state, like Chicago and Cook County, have laws that differ from the state, and are often more strict.
- There’s no limit to how much a landlord can collect in either application fees or in security deposits, but these fees must be reasonable.
- All fees should be consistent with all applicants, since changing up the rates for each applicant could be interpreted as discrimination.
Again, we suggest reading this site for details on Illinois law.
Tenant Screening 101
We’ve put together a tenant screening tutorial that walks you through every step of the tenant screening process.
This will show you how to skip costly mistakes and spot common red flags.
Read our guide to learn how to screen tenants.
Selecting A Screening Service
By now, you should have gathered up a few applications that you feel pretty good about and that meet your criteria. Now it’s time to run a background check. But how?
At the most basic level, a thorough background check should include the following:
- Eviction History
- Bankruptcy Search
- Judgments and/or Liens
- Nationwide Criminal and Sex Offender History
It is of the utmost importance that you perform tenant screening on all potential tenants. Choosing to go against this or going with your gut feeling, will almost always find a way to come back and bite you.
You can trust RentPrep to provide a thorough and accurate tenant screening service. After all, we’ve worked with over 21,000 landlords over the past 10 years, so we know what we’re doing.
Check out our tenant screening packages to see the services we offer.
Our FCRA-certified screeners are trained to give you the best tenant screening reports available.