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Accessing public records varies from state to state. There different procedures, laws and information available to the public. It can be a quagmire trying jump through all the bureaucratic red tape to find the information you are looking for. In some cases, the information is at your fingertips, in others you must submit a written request and apply in person to view the records. Some of the most common records accessed are criminal records including arrests and convictions, court records, and vital statistics. There are many reasons to access public records, from doing background checks on future employees or presenting proof of death to credit card companies and other government agencies.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, Americans have access to many records that were once kept carefully guarded under lock and key. It literally took an act of congress to make several vital statistics and criminal records available to anyone. Groups like the National Freedom of Information Coalition protect our ability to access certain records available to the public under the FOIA. The Connecticut FOIA that was enacted in 1975, insures the state’s residents’ ability to attend public meetings and to access public information such as any information that has an effect on the public, like real estate sales, business permit applications, court rulings, Zoning ordinances and other public business.
Background checks in Connecticut can be obtained using many commercial “gotcha sites” that promise free information only to lead the user to a page requesting credit card information and membership fees. The official issuer of background information is the State of Connecticut Department of Public Safety Division of State Police Bureau of Identification using an official request form. Information disclosed can be searched either by name or fingerprint. There is a $50 fee for the search, and disclosures apply. In Connecticut, this information will include criminal history current as of the date of request. The Connecticut Judicial Law Libraries offers more complete information regarding use of criminal records. Records that have been granted erasure will not be included in the reports. Likewise, information regarding juvenile convictions are not made available to the public.
Anyone can search inmate and jail records for free through the Connecticut State Department of Corrections. This online search will produce records of anyone that is currently incarcerated, including persons awaiting trial. Therefore, even though someone may be housed in the jail, they are not to presumed guilty until after trial. Release dates are subject to change depending on inmate behavior credits earned.
Most court proceeding records are available to the public, the notable exception being cases involving juveniles and lawsuits that have a nondisclosure clause as part of the settlement. In Connecticut the public can access court records by navigating to the public tab on the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch website. Here the public has access to arrest warrants, child support, court rules and standing orders, court support services, decisions and opinions, court service centers, law libraries and other helpful services to help the public find the answer to their questions.
The Department of Public Health maintains all of Connecticut’s vital statistics that include birth records, death records, fetal death records, marriages, divorces, and civil unions that have happened within the state’s boundaries. Genealogical records are available on the DPH’s website and can be accessed for medical or scientific research. In order to access these records, the requester must file proof that records accessed will be used for those purposes and only those purposes. Records available online date back to 1992. Birth records are confidential and will only be issued under certain circumstances. Additional vital statistics date back to July 1, 1897 and can be accessed following special procedures. These records can be accessed following directions on the Department of Health’s website found here. There are fees associated with accessing these records.
As with each state, public access to records is protected by the Freedom of Information Act. In Kansas, the first FOIA was passed in 1957 and has been updated twice, once in 1972 and again in 1984. The FOIA protects citizens’ rights to obtain information that effects the public and that has been determined to be public information. Information protected under this act includes information discussed at public meetings, such as town council sessions, judicial proceedings and any other meeting whose proceedings and outcome will have an impact on the public. Examples of these meetings include local school board meetings, legislative sessions, public utility meetings and other meetings of agencies in which the public has an interest. Excluded from these are juvenile court proceedings, military records whose release would compromise the safety of the general public and information in ongoing lawsuits whose release could influence the proceedings outcome.
In Kansas, accessing criminal and arrest records is as simple as visiting the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s website and entering the appropriate information. Conducting a background check will cost $20.00 per search, and can be done by anyone, for anyone. Certain records will not be released when prohibited by statutes, such as juvenile records, expunged records and any other criminal record that is exempt from being released to the general public. Also not included are arrests in which persons were found not guilty or in which the case was dismissed. Diversions that have been successfully completed, arrest records over a year old that have no record of disposition. What will be included are criminal convictions, both misdemeanor and felony, convictions for violations of city and county ordinances that are considered misdemeanors according to statutes. Arrest records from the prior 12 months that have no disposition and diversions that are active are also included.
Jail and inmate records are found in Kansas by searching KASPER– Kansas Adult Supervised Population Electronic Repository. While the state strives to keep completely accurate records, if someone finds an error, they are able to alert the state to get it rectified. The public can access records of anyone that is currently incarcerated through the Kansas Department of Criminal Justice, but the search must include at the very least a name. This site also has an advanced search feature to help pull up records. Often this information is needed in order to locate an offender. Other information provided by KASPER includes Parole and Community Corrections absconders. Absconder information can be accessed with pictures and thumbnails, which is a handy feature to help keep Kansans safe.
Kansas court records and opinions can be accessed from the Kansas Judicial Branch website. Here the public can access court decisions and opinions. The site contains self-help directories to guide the public in their search. Another site that can be used to access court records is the Office of Judicial Administration. The public can search active and completed cases by names of those involved. There are limitations regarding what records are found here. Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties are exceptions and there are links to those counties sites, however these sites are only available as subscriptions services. The OJA site charges $1 per search, even when no results are produced unless the user is a subscriber to the site. Records retrieved include civil limited action, domestic and family law, marriage licenses, personal property tax records, probate, small claims, state tax and statutory liens. Those wishing to avoid the fee can try searching county specific records. Some counties, such as Shawnee County Third Judicial District, provide public access online for free. Juvenile records are not included unless transferred to adult status.
As with all vital statistics, the public has limited access. Adoption records may or may not be available depending on the terms of the adoption. If it was an open adoption, then the records are available, but a closed adoption has had the records sealed. Birth records, death records, marriage and divorce records as well as still born records are available at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment through the Office of Vital Statistics. Citizens can also obtain a copy of their birth certificate here, as well as certificates of no marriage. These records are not public records and can only be accessed by the parties listed on the records. Kansas protects this information to prevent identity theft and other issues that can arise by releasing this sensitive information to the public.
A small state located in the northeastern region of the United States, Delaware is the sixth most densely populated of the U.S. and is divided into just three counties. Also known as the first state in the Union, Delaware didn’t have a public records law on the books until 1977.
The state of Delaware’s public records are ruled by its “Freedom of Information Act” 29 Del. C. § 10001 et seq., which is only similar in name to its Federal counterpart. The state statute outlines who can obtain public records, what is included and what is not.
The act itself states that only citizens of the state of Delaware can request records, but the courts have broadened this through case law to extend that right to citizens of other states. The purpose of the request does not need to be stated and the records obtained may be used for any purpose. Records of any public entity may be requested, including the executive branch, General Assembly, and judicial bodies.
Records that are excluded under the act include those from:
Background checks in Delaware are administered by the Delaware State Police, State Bureau of Identification (SBI). The SBI provides certified criminal history reports to requestors through fingerprint cards only, not name searches. Therefore, no one can request a background check on you without your knowledge or consent in this state. A Federal background check can be included at an additional cost and reports take 2-4 weeks to be returned.
The Delaware state Department of Corrections website has information and links to help you locate offenders and a great deal of information for victims and advocates. If you are looking for inmate records, you can use their partner site, Vinelink.com, that will allow you to determine where someone is being housed, their projected release date, and other pertinent information about their charges. You will need to know the persons Offender ID or their First Name and Last Name to do a search.
The Delaware court system is fairly compact as there are only three counties in the state. However, the types of records that you wish to gain access to will determine where you’ll need to go. The administrator of the courts is the place to start. If the case is a civil case, you can access docket information and some records online through their CourtConnect. Any other sort of case, you can request transcripts from the particular court.
Vital records in Delaware, such as birth, death, and marriage certificates are held by the state Office of Vital Statistics. Divorce records are not. Divorce records are always handled by the county in which the final dissolution of marriage took place.
Birth Certificates: Once a birth record is 72 years old, it becomes public record in Delaware. Any birth record from 1942 or before must be researched at the Delaware Public Archives. Records from 1943 forward can be requested from the Office of Vital Statistics. If the certificate is not public record due to age, you must be one of the parties listed on the birth certificate, a spouse, a legal guardian, or an authorized representative to make a request.
Death Certificates: Once a death record is 40 years old, it becomes public record in Delaware. Any death record from 1974 or before must be researched at the Delaware Public Archives. Records from 1975 forward can be requested from the Office of Vital Statistics. If the certificate is not public record due to age, you must be a current spouse, child, parent, legal guardian, authorized representative, or genealogy researcher to make the request.
Marriage Records: Marriage certificates should be requested from one of two sources depending on the date of the marriage. If married in 1974 or before, make your request to the Delaware Public Archives. If 1975 to present, you can make your request to the Office of Vital Statistics. To obtain the records, you will need to be a party on the certificate or a child, parent, legal guardian, authorized agent, or genealogy researcher.
Divorce Records: Divorce Records are only available from the county in which the divorce took place. Here are the three different counties in Delaware and their information to make a request.
Vermont is a state in the northeastern U.S. that is over 75% forest and known for being home to more than 100 historic covered bridges. A major producer of maple syrup and popular winter destination, Vermont is also home to over half a million residents who may wish to access public records in some form or another.
Vermont public records were actually governed by Common Law for many years, until 1975 when the state enacted its first public records law, Vermont Access to Public Records Act Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 1, §§ 315-320, in the wake of the Watergate scandal. While “any person” may request public records in Vermont and they do not have to specify the reason for the request, the state is known for having a restrictive policy because of the number of exemptions that they list, over 200 in all. The Act states that requests do apply to records from all public agencies, the executive branch, and legislative bodies. Some, but not all, of the exclusions include:
Background checks in the state of Vermont are administered by the Vermont Crime Information Center (VCIC), a division of the Department of Public Safety. They offer several different types of record checks, depending on the purpose.
The Vermont Department of Corrections is the place to get information on current offenders, victim services, and other information for families connected to crimes in the state. Vermont uses a service called JailTracker to search for offenders and it will provide you will a full list of all of the people currently incarcerate in Vermont. You will be able to sort and search the list, which provides full name, booking date, Offender #, age, and possible release date.
If you want court records in the state of Vermont, you will need to determine the type of case and its final dissolution. Information on all of Vermont’s courts can be found through its administrator of the courts. For up-to-date calendar information on cases in Vermont’s criminal, family, and civil division, you can sign up for Vermont Courts Online. You can also get case summaries for some cases through this website. Otherwise, you have the option to order transcribed copies of any case files at a cost per page.
Unlike many other states, Vermont began recording vital records in the mid-1800s. Since 1857, towns have been recording births, deaths, and marriages. Since 1896, the responsibility for keeping the records has fallen to the state Department of Health. However, this department only keeps current records for five years before moving them to the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA). You can request any of these certificates online and do not have to be an interested party to do so.
Birth Certificates: For births that occurred before 2011, you will need to make your request through VSARA. For births after 2011, make your request through the Department of Health.
Death Certificates: Death certificates are kept at the Department of Health for five years, after which time records are sent to the State Archives. Depending on the date of death, you will need to go to one of these two agencies to make your request.
Marriage Certificates: When a marriage occurs in Vermont, the town clerk sends the marriage certificate to the state Department of Health for filing. Copies of marriage certificates, and prior civil unions, that occurred after 2011 should be obtained at the Department of Health. Those with earlier dates will wish to go to the State Archives to request records.
Divorce Certificates: When a divorce or dissolution occurs in Vermont, it is filed with the court, who then sends the final decree to the Department of Health for filing. Again, if the divorce occurred after 2011, the certificate should be requested from the Department of Health. If it was earlier, you’ll want to visit the State Archives with your request.
The most northern state on America’s east coast, Maine is located in the New England region and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Canada to the north. Known for its rocky coastline and forested interior, the state is only the 41st most populous in the U.S., with 1.3 million residents. Maine has a public records law that keep its government records open for inspection.
Maine’s public records law is referred to as the “Freedom of Access Act” and was passed in 1959. Found in 1 M.R.S.A. § 408 – 521 of its state Code, the law allows “every person” to access public records, and they do not have to indicate why they are requesting them or their intended use. However, if records being requested are exempt, stating a reason (such as research-oriented) could grant greater access to records.
The Act states that more weight is given to what the records cover rather than who produced them when it comes to whether they are open to the public or not. Regardless, any record received or produced in connection with public business is considered to be open, and this includes the executive and legislative branches. The courts are not included, however, as they have their own disclosure rules. Other exemptions include:
Records from many public agencies can be searched and viewed through the state’s online DataShare website.
Background checks in Maine are administered by the Maine State Police, State Bureau of Identification. Their system, called InforME, produces criminal records reports for Maine only and doesn’t include any other states. Either a name-based or a fingerprint-based check can be ordered, and a name-based report can be requested by anyone, with or without a consent. Reports returned list both adult and juvenile criminal histories, although it is highly cautioned that name-based reports can be inaccurate due to cases of mistaken identity.
To find out information on inmates, Maine correctional facilities, or services for victims and their families, visit the Maine Department of Corrections. The state has its own page where you can search for inmate records to determine such information as the facility that the offender is housed in, case disposition, and anticipated release date. To do a search, it is helpful to know as much information as possible about the inmate such as their MDOC Number, First Name, Last Name, Age, Weight, Height, Eye Color, Hair Color, and Race. The more information that you can put into the system, the narrower will be your search.
Any information about Maine’s judicial system can be found through its administrator of the courts website. The only Maine court records that you can search online are opinions and orders from the state Supreme Court. In order to search records of any other cases, including District and Superior courts, you will need to fill out the Request for Records Search form.
Vital records in the state of Maine are kept by the Division of Public Health Systems and records date back to 1892. Records for birth, death, marriage and divorce can be obtained from this office in several ways:
Both certified and non-certified copies of any of these certificates can be ordered from the state of Maine. Only the person named on the certificate, immediate family members, legal representatives, or registered genealogists can order these items.
Nevada law states that all public books and records of any government entity must be made available to the public, unless they have been specifically and legally declared as confidential. Public records are available to anyone who asks for them, and they do not need to present identification or state their purpose for using the record for the most part. However, there are some limitations on access to certain records that require the individual requesting them to provide proof they are a journalist or that they are carrying out a court order, such as requests for identifying information regarding someone who is using a recreational facility.
The law specifies that records must be available during office hours, and that they may be copied. A fee equal to the actual cost of copying the record may be charged. Government agencies have five business days to respond to a public records request. If they deny the request, they must inform the requester as to the legal basis for refusing the request. The burden of proof of confidentiality is on the government.
The General Services Division of the Nevada Department of Public Safety handles official state background checks. Fingerprints are stored at the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History.
Only conviction records are available to the general public without any sort of credentials or waiver. Complete criminal records can only be released to the subject of the record. The only third parties that may request criminal records are law enforcement agencies, authorized state agencies and approved employers who have a signed waiver from the subject.
Information on current inmates that is available to the general public is limited to the inmate’s name, gender, ethnicity, age, birth date, known aliases, height, weight, skin color, hair color, eye color, current place of incarceration, and whether they have previously been convicted of any felonies.
Conviction and sentencing information is restricted to the inmate and certain approved third parties. Information that may be released to family members varies by facility. The family member must contact the facility where the inmate is incarcerated to determine what information can be released to them. The best points of contact to start out with at most facilities are the Caseworker III or the Associate Warden.
In all cases, parties can look up information they are authorized to receive through the Inmate Search at the Nevada Department of Corrections website. The name or identification number of the inmate is needed to run a search. Information is only available for those currently serving a sentence in a facility overseen by NDOC.
The individual counties of Nevada maintain the records for courts within their jurisdiction.
The Clark County (Las Vegas) Clerk of the Court maintains records from the Eight Judicial District Court from 1909 to the present. Records prior to 1909 are obtained from the administrator of the courts of Lincoln County. Most records from 1990 onward can be searched for and viewed online. Requests for records prior to 1990 must be submitted in person or by mail at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas.
The Washoe County (Reno and Carson City) Second Judicial District Court maintains a searchable online database of case files. Users can search by case number, case description and case type.
Records for the Fourth Judicial Court can be obtained in person at the Elko County Clerk’s Office in Elko. Records for the Sixth Judicial Court can be obtained at the Humboldt County Clerk’s Office in Winnemucca.
The Office of Vital Records of the Nevada State Health Division in Carson City handles requests for birth certificates and death certificates issued after July 1911. Marriage licenses, divorce records and any records issued before July 1911 must be obtained from the county where they were originally issued.
Every Landlord has faced the question before: How do you get a good quality tenant to lease your rental?
You want to make sure that your prospective renter can do three things really well:
Enter the tenant screening process. While well known and well used, it’s actually quite misunderstood.
In this guide, I’m going to cover a few important issues. If you follow them well, you have an incredibly high chance of getting high quality tenants without much fuss.
Tenant screening means finding out everything there is to know about your potential tenants, as it affects their ability to pay and meet the requirements of their lease. In other words, it’s a deep dive into who your tenants are and what you can learn from their past actions.
Tenant screening works by taking all of the important qualities you want from a tenant (we’ll get to that in a second), and making sure they exist. It involves checking their criminal and credit history, talking to landlords and employers, and making sure they have the money to pay the rent for the next year.
When you think about it, you’re giving someone access to a product (your rental) over a year or longer, so you need to make absolutely sure that your renter can handle it. Thinking about it like a much smaller version of mortgage lending will help you evaluate risk and make the right decision when it comes to choosing a tenant.
The most important thing you look for in a tenant is their ability to pay the rent, on time, every time.
All of the qualities below influence that:
Apartment marketing is an art unto itself, and is probably deserving of another post altogether. But to put it briefly, there are plenty of great tenants out there. When you first post your ad, make sure your screening requirements are clearly listed in the ad.
Make sure you are honest about what your apartment is, and the type of tenants it can support in terms of income and employment.
Different internet sites drive different types of tenants. Make sure to test ads both on Craigslist AND other sites like Facebook.
You can screen people based on some information and details but not on others. For example, it’s fine to disallow a prospective tenant because of a poor credit history or a violent criminal past. What’s not ok, and is illegal, is discrimination against someone in what’s called a “protected class”.
The Fair Housing Act make it illegal to discriminate based upon “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap”. While that seems obvious, it means you can’t write things like “No Kids” or “Great Hispanic Neighborhood” in your ad.
When talking to prospective tenants, you can’t ask them about their family or mention what a wonderful catholic neighborhood your apartment is in.
To reiterate – you can deny someone rent based on their criminal background, a past eviction, or all sorts of monetary criteria. But you can’t violate the basics of the fair housing laws.
The rental application is actually a core process of your tenant screening. Most tenants hate applying, because they’re incredibly long and take a good 15-20 minutes to fill at least. For the Landlord or Property Manager, however, the leasing application is the second line of defense after making your requirements clear in your marketing.
Simply put, the property application and leasing form allows you to gather all the information you need, and to catch tenants in lies. Many prospective tenants who don’t meet your requirements, will balk at paying and filling out the application. Other tenants, who don’t want to put the effort in to filling out the application, may not put the effort into paying the rent on time, either.
In short, the rental application is a great way to weed out those who wouldn’t make it to the final stage anyway, while saving you a ton of time and money.
The Rental Application should have a few important sections:
Once you have your tenant’s application, and a separate signed consent form, it’s time to run the actual background check and check the credit report. We’ll add more info here about logging into your background check system and pulling credit reports.
Make sure your tenants know that the credit report for renting will be a hard pull, so they’re not surprised when it shows up on their systems.
Assuming the background check came back clear [no felonies, evictions, reasonable credit score and information], it’s time to make sure they’re telling the truth about how much money they make and who they work for.
Verifying income is tougher then most landlords consider. W-2s and Income statements can be easily faked. Most Landlords will be ok with pay stubs anyway, but there are a number of more secure ways to verify income:
1. File IRS Form 4506-t and get access to the previous years W2, 1099 or 1040 Form
2. Do an online screen share with your tenant to view their income from their bank account.
3. Use a background check service to authenticate employment verification for your tenants.
The next step is via employment. You might do this via a service like The Work Number, or by simply calling the reference. When calling the reference, google the phone number first to make sure it really belongs to the company. Call the company main line and ask to speak to the person listed as a reference. Unscrupulous tenants have been known to provide cell phone numbers of friends and family, instead of a bad reference from a boss.
Call previous landlords to find out how the tenants acted. Did they pay rent on time? Were they evicted? Did they cause trouble?
Before calling the landlord, verify with the county assessor that the name given is the owner of the property. Sometimes it may be a property manager or real estate agent, but you need to check these things. Tenants can sometimes provide the most bizarre and inaccurate information to try and trick you.
This is the simplest answer: anyone who is going to be on the hook for rental payments, needs to have their background screened and verified.
If you decide not to accept a tenant, you must send them an Adverse Action letter telling them why, and notifying them of the name of the Consumer Reporting Agency who created the report.
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