Canada's Condominium Magazine

Check credit and criminal records before you rent to a stranger

According to one service provider, 12 per cent of Canadians have a criminal record. Would you want to know that about a person before you rented your beautiful new condo to him?

The ongoing international hunt for a Canadian man who allegedly murdered another man in his Montreal apartment has shown us once again, as if we needed reminding, that people are capable of unbelievably ghastly behaviour. The man being sought for this crime rented his apartment. Did the landlord know what kind of person he was renting to? Could he have known? Would you want to know, if you were looking for a tenant?

At the risk of stating the obvious: before you rent to anyone, you should do a thorough background check. As one renter-screening company says, with unintentional irony, “People aren’t always what they seem.”

A thorough check should include not only rental and employment history, but criminal records as well. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation advises that you do a thorough screening before accepting a tenant because if you don’t, you will have no leg to stand on should there be problems later. For instance, if you learn a couple of months in that the tenant can’t pay the agreed-upon rent, but you didn’t ask about and verify his employment and earnings before giving him a lease, you could have trouble terminating the lease. Big headache.

In Canada you’re not allowed to question a potential tenant about things that infringe on the person’s human rights under the country’s charter or the province’s code, things like ethnic background, sexual orientation or religion. You can’t ask for a person’s social insurance number as a condition for renting (though you will need it to get a credit check, and the person must give it willingly). You can’t ask if a person is married or single, or whether he or she plans to have children.

But you can and should ask the person’s income, place of employment, number of people who will be living with him or her, whether h/she smokes or has a pet, credit history and references. Before doing a credit check on an applicant, you must get the person’s permission, in writing. Should the person refuse, you should consider the application process complete. Don’t rent to someone who won’t allow a standard credit check.

Criminal record check

The number of people in Canada who have a criminal record is surprisingly high: 12 per cent—that’s one in eight of us—according to one online company that provides criminal record checks. An overriding principle that governs the use of criminal record checks for commercial purposes, including landlords, states that a landlord cannot demand information from an individual, as a condition of providing a service (renting an apartment), that is beyond what is necessary to protect that landlord’s legitimate interests. If a prospective tenant thought that he or she was being asked for more information than was necessary, that person could report the landlord to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. 

A criminal record check can be done fairly quickly, usually within 24 hours. As a landlord, you can ask to see one, but you can’t get one done without the subject’s written permission. The individual can arrange to have it done and then show you the results, or, if it has already been done, simply share it with you. Many not-for-profit organizations and employers now require criminal background checks for employees, so these individuals will have access to them readily. An organization called BackCheck provides online services. Again, if you want to see one and the applicant balks, consider that a sign that the application is dead.

The criminal record check typically reveals such things as whether a person has been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code, has been judged not criminally responsible for an offence because of mental disorder, has federal or provincial charges pending, is on probation or subject to a Prohibition Order. 

In the end, the best advice is to screen everyone, regardless of how they present. Trusting your “gut” when it comes to people who want something from you is not a good strategy. One credit check company claims that “30 per cent of the quantifiable losses of rental property assests” are the result of people relying on their gut feeling about a renter. Don’t take anyone’s word, when your property, and that of others, could be at risk.

 

  

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