PI Newswire, a news service for private investigators, splashed the following headline across the screen of my computer. Jury Finds Housing Authority Negligent in Elderly Woman’s Murder after Tenant Background Check Misses Neighbor’s Criminal Past. Here’s part of the lead.

A jury recently ruled that negligence by the Housing Authority in a North Carolina city led to an elderly woman’s death at the hands of her crack cocaine addicted neighbor in 2007.

The sons of the woman asked for more than $10 million in damages. The “negligence” was not conducting a proper background check on the neighbor. If you’re a landlord or you hire people, there are three lessons about background checks you can learn from this story.

You can be sued for not conducting a proper background check if a person you select as a tenant or a person you hire commits a crime of violence. If you lose the case, the award could be huge.

“Proper” means doing a check using a reputable service like SentryLink that offers national coverage. The Housing Authority did a background check, but it was only of North Carolina records.

You should have a standard procedure to check out prospective tenants and employees. If you don’t, put that at the top of your To Do list. Your procedure should include background checks and other steps to keep the dangerous and deceitful away from the good people who rent from you or work for you.

Once you have a procedure, follow it. Use checklists and other simple aids to make sure you do all the steps in the proper order every time.

This isn’t just about preventing lawsuits. It’s about protecting the people who rent from you and the people who work for you.

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