TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, is introducing a new database that will collect information on rental payments and provide it to apartment managers and landlords to help them screen potential tenants.

The "RentBridge" database will provide participating landlords and managers with instant access to the records of former tenants, in order to verify their payment histories.

It will also provide instant TransUnion credit reports to verify their credit history.

"The RentBridge database is expected to create numerous advantages for apartment owners and property managers," the company said.

"Because rental payments have not generally been reported to any of the three national credit reporting companies in the past, renters have not seen the financial benefits of paying on time or the consequences of not paying or skipping out on the rent altogether reflected on a credit report."

TransUnion's move puts it firmly in the business of rental screening, along with fellow credit agency Experian's SCOREX software and the First American company.

Tenant screening is becoming a common practice among landlords to weed out "higher risk" renters.

Critics claim that like credit reports, rental screening reports are often inaccurate, hard to obtain, and heavily slanted against the individual renter.

TransUnion's own rental scoring software, CreditRetriever, will anchor the new RentBridge database system. CreditRetriever was developed by independent scoring software company RentPort, which was bought by TransUnion in June 2004.

TransUnion also claims the new RentBridge database will enable lenders to access information on so-called "thin credit" consumers -- people with little or no credit histories due to age, lack of credit cards, and so on. Many consumers with "thin credit" files are unable to gain loans or have difficulties getting employment because of their lack of credit history.

"Having access to rental payment data will help to increase the market potential of these consumers. The predictive data also will be useful in identifying new prospects for their offerings. In addition, they will have more data elements for verifying personal information to combat identity fraud and locating missing debtors to improve collections," according to the TransUnion press release.

"Thin credit" customers also represent a lucrative new market for credit companies as they struggle to retain customers who have been paying off their cards and closing their accounts.

Many utility providers such as Verizon have taken to reporting customer payment histories to the major credit bureaus, ostensibly to help their "thin credit" customers build better credit histories.

Skeptics say the move is primarily meant to ensure customers pay bills on time, or else risk their credit scores falling.