Having a roommate can be a good way to build a friendship. Roommates can help during an emergency, keep you company, and help with rent. However, sharing a home with a stranger is no small risk. They might try to freeload off you; their lifestyle might clash with yours.
Whether you’re a worried parent of a college freshman or looking for a roommate yourself, using a background check is the best way to stay safe.
Look for Social Network Accounts
PeekYou and other free people finders can yield basic background information. They will provide publicly available information like their place of birth, aliases, social media, and their current address and job. As many people are in the habit of oversharing, checking out their Facebook and Twitter can be a smart move.
You might find out they are an unrepentant party animal or even an alcohol abuser based on the type of photos they share. Don’t make up your mind based on a single picture of a party.
The way they cope with comments on Facebook can be telling of their overall temperament.
Checking for a Criminal Record
Now, things get a bit more serious. Having a noisy roommate isn’t the worst thing in the world, but sharing your home with an ex-con or substance abuser? That’s another thing. Criminal acts are usually a matter of public record. Official records document every misdemeanor and offense, and anyone can see them. Even better, they are now accessible online. You had to go down to the courthouse in the past. Now, all you need is a device with a reliable internet connection.
You might find they’ve been convicted of an offense. To make verifying info easier, background check reports include case details and birth records.
You can use your state’s circuit court website for free. If you don’t have a good feeling about them or don’t hit it off during the interview, definitely follow up with a screening. Make sure to conduct a background check thoroughly.
Ask for References
Ask them if their previous landlord can provide a reference. You might find out they were always late with rent or drew the ire of the neighbors. They might even have violated their rent contract. Their reaction to the question could be telling. It’s all about getting an idea of what they’re really like, not just during the interview. Talk to their references if you get the chance.
Proof of Financial Responsibility
You need proof that they’re financially responsible, which won’t be easy to get. Background checks don’t include people’s credit scores. You could order a specialized screening, but that still won’t give you the information you need. A good credit score does not mean someone is good with money, only that they pay bills and loans on time. Your landlord might run their own background check on your potential roommate, but if they default on their share of the rent, you might have to cover for them.
You run the risk of them thinking you’re paranoid as many people don’t feel comfortable being asked for a credit report, although this would solve the problem. Alternatively, ask them for a recent payslip. At least you’ll know they’re gainfully employed. It could be the better option because you only get one free credit report from the main credit bureaus a year, and they might not want to waste it.
Put Them on the Lease
Ideally, the checks didn’t pull up any red flags, and you’ve breathed a sigh of relief. It’s still a good idea for them to be on the lease. If that’s not possible, make an agreement between the two of you to lay out the expectations of your residential arrangement.
The Devil’s in the Details
You both need to sign this agreement, just like you would any other important one. The agreement should specify where and when the rent is due, how the bills will be split, and what happens if one person violates the agreement.
Your new roommate should know when to pay their share of the rent. You need to decide if you’ll add their name to utility contracts if they are currently in yours. If not, specify you expect a check for their share by a specific date once a month.
Set out mutual expectations for sanitation. Specify issues around cleanliness, tidying up, loading and unloading the dishwasher or doing the dishes, and a laundry schedule if you have a washer and dryer in the home.
Finally, what happens if one person violates the agreement. Will you contact a collector or approach a small claims court if they don’t make good on debt?
If you perform a proper background check as part of the due diligence process, having a roommate can be a financially and emotionally rewarding experience. It’s an investment well worth making.
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