How to Do a Landlord Background Check in Two Easy Steps
Step One: Check the taxes.
There are requirements landlords in Philadelphia have to maintain, like getting a Business Privilege License and a Rental Suitability Certificate. Those are searches that are impossible to do. So, what’s the next best thing? Check the taxes on the property.
You can use ZBABot to do this (the search is at the bottom of the page), or click “Property Lookup” right at the top of our website right here. What you are looking for are tax liens. ZBABot will tell you if the property is bad news, it will highlight delinquencies in red, like this:
Step Two: Check to see if the property owner has been sued
The fastest way to get this information for free is to do a Municipal Court Docket search. Muni Court is the typical place where L&I code violations, Small Claims and unpaid tax suits wind up. It’s also where you are likely to find juicier items about the landlord, like for instance, this:
Here’s how you do the search:
- Go to FJDClaims, then click on Logon as a Public User (it’s on the right)
- Fill out the CAPTCHA, then click Search
- Change the search type to Defendant
- Search the property owner’s name. If the property is owned by a corporation or partnership, you need to search both that name, then go back and search the landlord’s name.
If your search comes back with cases, you should pop into each case and look at the complaint cover sheet. Check if the address of the rental you’re looking at matches. Look at what the complaint was about. Most of the time, especially cases filed after 2008, the full evidence documents in the case will also be there for you to look at.
If you see a lot of cases where the City of Philadelphia is suing the property owner, RUN AWAY.
It sometimes also helps to search the landlord or property owner as the plaintiff. If you see cases like that (usually for evictions), review them. Does the information you find convince you that you want to commit to a rental contract, or not?
Why should I do these searches?
This case is probably one of the best examples of why a simple 10 minute court search could prevent you a GREAT deal of hassle. Or in one family’s case, a night of homelessness.
In the Robert Coyle fiasco, if you were looking at renting a Coyle property, you would have noticed over 300+ Municipal Court cases involving LandVest (the owner of most of the rental houses).
Most very bad landlords have a paper trail at Municipal Court. While the City has a poor track record at removing bad landlords from the rental market, the paper trail at Municipal Court is one of the best resources you can use to help ferret out the bad apples and find yourself a good, fair, and legitimate landlord.