You should never let an applicant furnish their own credit report. There is no federal law prohibiting a landlord from obtaining one as long as the applicant gives permission. Fortunately, all states except for Wisconsin allow a landlord to charge an application fee to cover the cost of pulling a credit report. Wisconsin (under Adm. Code ATCP 134.05(4)(b)) allows the tenant to avoid a credit report fee by offering a landlord a previously pulled copy of their credit report as long as it is less than 30 days old. However, this does not prevent the landlord from obtaining his or her own copy from the credit bureaus.
Here is a copy of the Wisconsin citation on credit check fees in case you’re within its state lines:
(4) Credit check fee.
(a) Except as provided under par. (b), a landlord may require a prospective tenant to pay the landlord’s actual cost, up to $20, to obtain a consumer credit report on the prospective tenant from a consumer reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis. The landlord shall notify the prospective tenant of the charge before requesting the consumer credit report, and shall provide the prospective tenant with a copy of the report.
(b) A landlord may not require a prospective tenant to pay for a consumer credit report under par. (a) if, before the landlord requests a consumer credit report, the prospective tenant provides the landlord with a consumer credit report, from a consumer credit reporting agency that compiles and maintains files on consumers on a nationwide basis that is less than 30 days old.
While it may be tempting to accept a simple, quick and free credit report from the prospective…”tenant,” it’s potentially very problematic for the following reasons:
- Unless you pull the file, how will you know it’s an official report? It’s too easy for an unscrupulous tenant to create or change a fraudulent report.
- Reports obtained by tenant’s are usually not the same as a report used for tenant screening. Not only will the data be presented in a different format, but the credit score and risk factors will not be the correct model for the industry. So while the tenant’s own consumer-obtained version will show some payment history and a credit score of 720, the actual Fair issac risk model for rental agreements may show 660 and more detailed information like the specific reasons behind the score.
Always screen an applicant with the proper tenant credit check. Never put yourself in a position of wondering whether it’s a legitimate report with industry scoring or a consumer versions with some proprietary scoring model that’s never used in the real estate industry.