When is it legal for someone to run a background check

A background check is a search of public or private records that government agencies and other authorized organizations maintain. Employers often use background checks as a way to screen potential employees, but they can also be used for otherpurposes, such as screening tenants or volunteers. So when is it legal for someone to run a background check? Of course, the answer depends on the reason for the check. Here we will take a look at some of the most common reasons for conducting a background check and when it is legal to do so in each case.

Employment Screening

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was put into place to help protect the public from unfair credit reporting. The FCRA applies when a consumer reporting agency, such as a tenant screening company, provides information about consumers to employers for employment purposes. The FCRA and its Disposal Rule govern background checks conducted by an Employment Screening Agency. According to the rule, once an employer receives information from an Employment Screening Agency, it has 60 days to notify the applicant of their decision. The background check may only be used for another seven years. After that point, under federal law, it is illegal to use any of the negative information obtained in a background check on an applicant’s current employment prospects.

Most states have laws in place that govern the use of background checks for employment purposes. However, some states are stricter than others when it comes to this type of screening, so it is important to check with the appropriate state agencies before beginning any sort of screening process.

Tenant Screening 

Landlords use tenant screenings to weed out tenants who may pose a risk to their property or current tenants. Some landlords will conduct credit and criminal background checks, while others rely solely on income verification and reference checks. There are no federal laws governing how landlords run background checks on potential renters. However, many states have passed legislation regarding how landlords can use information obtained during tenant screenings. For example, in California, any information obtained through a tenant screening must be used for the sole purpose of evaluating a rental applicant’s suitability as a tenant. Additionally, landlords in California may only use negative information from tenant screenings for three years after the date it was obtained, and they must inform applicants if they intend to screen them. However, this is just one example, and there are many other states with different rules and regulations.

Military Background Checks

Probably one of the most common types of background checks is a military background check. According to the Department of Defense, services members and civilian employees are required to obtain security clearances to have access to classified information. A security clearance involves an extensive investigation which includes an interview with friends and family, previous employment history, substance abuse history, financial records, and a review of government databases for federal or state charges or convictions that would disqualify them from obtaining a clearance. The National Security Agency also requires that individuals working in certain fields undergo routine drug tests. Because these types of investigations take time and resources, agencies often contract with outside agencies, such as a tenant screening agency, to conduct the checks.

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The only federal law that pertains to background checks for military purposes is the Solomon Amendment. This amendment provides tenants and applicants who have been denied employment or clearance based on information obtained during a tenant screening investigation ten days to correct any inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information in the file.

State Laws

Because there are no federal laws governing background checks for employment purposes, the rules vary from state to state. Therefore, it is important to check with your state’s Department of Labor or human resources department before conducting a tenant screening on any applicant.


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