The process of finding the perfect rental house or apartment do range from hectic to just about impossible. But it could be worse: Picture yourself locating that long sought-after apartment or town house simply to be rejected from your prospective landlord as a result of negative report at a company you’ve never heard of. Sound like a nightmare? Unfortunately, for many people Americans it’s all too real. In the approximately 37 million rental units inside U.S., 17 million are overseen by professional property managers. Many landlords, particularly those who supervise large multifamily apartments or condos, rely on tenant screening bureaus to discover the background of potential customers. These firms collect information from court records, police blotters, credit bureaus along with other sources to help identify risky tenants before they become headaches. Sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, due to the way these screening services collect and store information, responsible tenants can sometimes be branded as risky and will be at a serious disadvantage in tight rental markets.
Much like nearly all money matters, essentially the most important factors in determining whether you’ll pass a tenant screening bureau check can be your credit history. Almost every tenant screening company runs a credit check required through at least one with the big three credit rating agencies: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. “They’re going to look at consumer credit data,” says Steve Katz, director of corporate communications at TransUnion, which entered the tenant screening industry in 2004 through the acquisition of RentPort, Inc. “They must carry out sure that the individual carries a history of being able to meet their obligations.”
But credit report are only part of the overall screening process. Tenant screening bureaus collect information coming from a surprisingly wide range of sources, including power companies, state governments as well as clerks of court. One particularly controversial practice involves sifting through civil court record and archiving what they are called they find, effectively creating “blacklists” of every tenant that has been associated with litigation with a landlord.
The country’s largest tenant screening company (but certainly not the most accurate or reliable), First Advantage SafeRent, recently settled in a situation alleging that they had intentionally provided incomplete information, purposely excluding the verdicts of tenant-landlord lawsuits into their tenant reports to landlords. The key reason why: The verdict, whether or not it showed the tenant to get clearly in the right, was irrelevant; that they had been involved in a suit was enough to make them a serious risk for any prospective landlord.
“There isn’t way to keep yourself away from a database,” says James B. Fishman, a whole new York-based attorney specializing in the rights of tenants and consumers, who represented Adam White, the tenant who brought the SafeRent suit. “If you are attempting to enforce your rights underneath the law, then a landlord could retaliate and sue you, which gets you blacklisted.” A spokesman for First American SafeRent declined to comment for this story. Although the companies that do the creation of these blacklists they are under considerable pressure to improve the way they do business, what they’re doing is technically not illegal. Actually, many municipalities, for example the City of New York, routinely sell records of tenant-landlord disputes en masse to any tenant bureau that wishes to buy them.
“Nobody cared that they were gathering this information,” Fishman says. “This only gets to be a problem when they’re using screening reports to deny apartments.”
Criminal history records checked too
Another potential way to obtain headaches for prospective tenants is the criminal background check. While believe they’ll sail smoothly via a criminal check, that could not always be the case due to the way these checks are conducted.
Ideally, tenant screening companies would make use of the states’ CORI (criminal offender record information) systems to secure a complete picture of your individual’s criminal record. Unfortunately, because state governments often impose a fee for access to scalping strategies, screening companies may use arrest records instead. This will cause those who have been charged with a crime to be red-flagged even though they were later acquitted.
“The police blotter is public information, however it doesn’t tell you the disposition in the case,” says Mac McCreight, a senior attorney with all the housing unit of Greater Boston Legal Services. “The tenant must prove the disposition was positive, and frequently that can be tricky.” Finally, comparable to their credit bureau brethren, tenant screening bureaus usually tend to mix up the records of these with similar names. “There might be identity issues that may be problematic,” says McCreight. “Those with extremely common names might have problems.” Put simply, even if you’ve never done anything that would land you on a tenant screening bureau’s blacklist, being a John Smith or a Judy Jones might be enough to acquire your records scrambled with an gent who has.
You are responsible
In final summary is there anything prospective tenants are capable of doing to prevent these screening snafus? It’s a good news/bad news situation. Fortunately: Most tenant screening companies and tenant databases are willing to change inaccuracies or at least investigate them to be able to comply with the Fair Verifying Act, a Federal law that will require consumer information collected by credit and tenant bureaus for being fair and accurate. “As with any information that is certainly reported to a credit scoring company, if the info is inaccurate, the consumer can prepare a dispute form online or phone us directly,” says Clifton O’Neal, director of pr for TransUnion. “There’s a very streamlined process specified legally that ensures a consumer will receive an answer to his or her disputed item inside a 30-day period.”
Unhealthy news: The burden of finding and changing these inaccuracies and omissions is on the consumer. And by enough time an error is corrected, your dream apartment will probably be removed. “Everything else happens in the meantime and also the unit is rented out. There is absolutely no link between correcting the details and the process being ground to a halt,” says McCreight.
Under the FCRA, consumers are entitled to a no cost copy of their consumer data from any tenant screening bureau that considers itself someone reporting agency (CRA). First Advantage SafeRent looks after a Web site that gives instructions on the way to send for a free copy of the file. The process for disputing bad information with a tenant screening bureau is nearly similar to the process required to change incorrect home elevators a credit bureau report. So if you’re looking to rent in a very tight market, take a look at your credit report and contact a tenant bureau to get a copy of your consumer file. A small amount of planning might stop your perfect apartment from becoming one which got away.