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Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

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Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

Old 10-28-14, 09:40 PM
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Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

I am renting my old house (had it for sale, it never sold). When somebody is interested in the house I run their name through the county clerk's website which shows any court actions involving that person.

A friend of mine said this might be illegal without a signed permission to do a background check. So I guess my question is this: Is looking up a person's name in the county clerk's website for the purpose of determining whether to rent to the person legal or does it maybe violate the fair housing act? Without permission.

There is a girl who was wanting to rent from me but has a lengthy court activity record including two evictions and one or two foreclosures. I don't want to rent to her, much too risky. Do I need to give her a rental application and have her fill it out then tell her "no", should I just ignore her messages, or can I tell her that I entered her name in the court records search and feel it is not a good match?

This is all in Illinois.

Last edited by Heat; 10-28-14 at 09:52 PM.
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Old 10-28-14, 09:47 PM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

Those are public records; you are perfectly within your rights. You cannot discriminate on any of the protected classes. Criminal/legal and financial history are not protected classes.

If you are concerned, you can add a consent request to your rental application.

It wasn't my sister-in-law was it? She's moving to the area this weekend. (I know it's not. )

Last edited by Abob Teff; 10-30-14 at 12:45 AM.
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Old 10-28-14, 10:02 PM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

If your sister in law is looking for a short term rental (through May or June, 2014) then month to month after that I can pass on the information. My plan is to rent it through May or June, 2014 then put it back on the market to sell.

$1,000 / month, 3 br, 1.5 bath, all hardwood upper (bilevel), Chatham schools, nice family oriented neighborhood. Trash pickup is included.
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Old 10-28-14, 10:59 PM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

1) You need permission from the potential tenant to run a BG.*

*Have the tenant sign the document, run the name again after the signature, the BG will be legit.

2) If you performed a BG on this potential tenant, make sure you have done so with all potential tenants.

http://www2.illinois.gov/dhr/filinga...s/housing.aspx (many links on this pages to documents, laws, etc.)

http://www.illinoislegalaid.org/inde...contentID=1755

3) Call or email IDHR and ask them what you're asking here (312) 814-6229. You might have exceptions due to the way you're renting, or you might have to play ball like everyone else.
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Old 10-29-14, 01:08 AM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

I doubt it is illegal anywhere (in the free world) to review public records as part of a background check because the records are, like, public and all. There is no expectation of privacy in the records and you aren't doing anything nefarious with the info. You might possibly be violating the terms of service of the court's website by using it for a commercial purpose.

A true background check usually involves a credit check and other more sensitive sources of info, for which permission is generally required.
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Old 10-29-14, 01:09 AM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

Just to be clear, running a person's name through the county website is considered a background check?

I had thought that the signature was only needed to run a credit check and that any public records were fair game, but that was just an assumption and not based on anything.
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Old 10-29-14, 02:13 AM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

I don't think Googling or running someone's name through a court website amounts to a "background check" that requires consent or permission.
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Old 10-30-14, 11:53 PM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

I don't know. I'm just taking the easy route and ignoring her.

One issue is that she has bi-racial children, I don't want it to look like I am denying her because of race. It isn't, I am denying her because she has two evictions.

Anyway, I have a good tenant (no evictions!) lined up, should have a lease signing on Saturday. She may buy if she can get a mortgage, she has a good job but had a bankruptcy about 18 months ago. Apparently you need to wait 24 months following a bankruptcy to get a mortgage (some unwritten bank rule?)
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Old 10-31-14, 12:44 AM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

You're making things too complicated. It is *your* house you are renting. It should be by your rules, to whomever you wish, no guilt involved. I'm not a lawyer, but looking someone up on Google or looking up publicly available county court records is smart, not illegal! You've got to protect yourself. And as far as denying any prospective tenant is concerned, you can make up any pie in the sky reason you want -- couching it in inoffensive and boiler-plate language, of course!
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Old 10-31-14, 10:07 AM
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Re: Attorney question - when can I do a background check?

Originally Posted by Heat View Post
Just to be clear, running a person's name through the county website is considered a background check?

I had thought that the signature was only needed to run a credit check and that any public records were fair game, but that was just an assumption and not based on anything.
No. Semantically it is (you are checking a person's background), but not what is considered a background check by the common standard. When you obtain "permission" for a background check, you are obtaining permission to obtain records only available to the individual. Without the person's permission you cannot obtain a credit report, healthcare documents, or any other "privileged" records. Public records are fair game. Interviewing former neighbors, friends, references ... all fair game that do not require permission. It is nice to let the person know and to ask permission, it is not necessary.

Originally Posted by Heat View Post
I don't know. I'm just taking the easy route and ignoring her.

One issue is that she has bi-racial children, I don't want it to look like I am denying her because of race. It isn't, I am denying her because she has two evictions.

Anyway, I have a good tenant (no evictions!) lined up, should have a lease signing on Saturday. She may buy if she can get a mortgage, she has a good job but had a bankruptcy about 18 months ago. Apparently you need to wait 24 months following a bankruptcy to get a mortgage (some unwritten bank rule?)
If you are concerned about that perception and her making it actionable (which it would be since it is racially based AND you just said it is an issue!) you are MUCH better served by notifying her about the evictions. If you do NOT provide a legitimate reason, the worst will always be assumed.

Originally Posted by zyzzle View Post
You're making things too complicated. It is *your* house you are renting. It should be by your rules, to whomever you wish, no guilt involved. I'm not a lawyer, but looking someone up on Google or looking up publicly available county court records is smart, not illegal! You've got to protect yourself. And as far as denying any prospective tenant is concerned, you can make up any pie in the sky reason you want -- couching it in inoffensive and boiler-plate language, of course!
zyzzle sounds like a good Libertarian (or a rotten Anarchist). Keep in mind this: You can apply any reason you want as long as it does not fall under The Fair Housing Act. This prohibits discrimination against:

Race or color
National origin
Religion
Sex
Familial status (families with children)
Disability
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