Inaccurate Background Reports and Credit Checks Are Preventing People From Renting

fizkes /
fizkes /

For decades, people have been claiming that credit reports and background checks have pulled up bogus information. Managers, owners, and card representatives have had to try and politely defend their findings. Now people can quickly prove what should be on their reports, yet they are still being denied the ability to rent a home due to these bogus checks.

Now, the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau want to hear from renters, landlords, and others about the results of these backgrounds.

One respondent explained that rental application fees and administration fees that are required for each place they are interested in pile up. When they are taking $50-$200 a person to see if they can live there, it can be prohibitively expensive to get into a new place. Other commenters chimed in to complain about the type of credit inquiry these landlords were doing, and the damage it did to their credit.

The joint request for comments was issued back on February 28th for any information regarding “background screening practices and their potential effect on people’s ability to obtain rental housing.” It also came roughly a month following the decision by the White House to unveil sweeping actions to address tenant protections as well as rental-affordability problems. To best focus them, the White House wanted tenants, landlords, advocacy groups, and others to talk about how criminal and eviction records impacted their housing decisions. Additionally, they wanted to discuss any inaccuracies received on those reports.

Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said, “No one should be shut out of housing because of inaccurate or unfair background screening practices. We are proud to be part of a whole-of-government effort to ensure fairness and equity in the rental market, and we are looking forward to hearing from the public on this vital issue.” He further claimed that his Feb 28th statement would “help inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction.”

As of March 6th, there were already 60 responses to the request on their website. The vast majority of the comments are anonymous and lack a complete name, let alone city and state or a phone number.

One comment came from someone who works helping people get responsible housing. From what they see, even those with help in covering the rent struggle to find a place to live. This leads the person helping them to adapt unique “incentives, double deposits” as well as other “risk mitigation” steps to get someone housed. In many cases, these could be considered “bribes.”

Another commenter who lists themselves as a black woman in Seattle says “We were homeless for just a little over an entire year because we had an eviction on our credit. Every apartment complex states in their ads, usually, that an eviction is an automatic denial. Our only hope was to plea with a homeowner. Just because someone is evicted from their home doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to have a home. The regulations surrounding the tenant screening process need a new lens to protect the human welfare of the people.”

A law firm wrote to the Feds to describe the hell their clients were living through. In one case, a public school teacher in Arizona handed over $1,800 in nonrefundable deposits to prospective landlords, just for the several properties to reject her. The cause? Multiple drug convictions by someone else with the same birthday and first name.

Just thinking about how common it is for someone to have the same first name and birthday across a single city, let alone state, it really starts to sound like these “mistakes” happen incredibly easily and swiftly.

If only something else could help prevent this. Perhaps a more thorough use of social security numbers? If you’re a citizen looking to rent here, you should have a social security number. If you were arrested or taken to court over rent, it should be incredibly easy to link this via those 9 digits. God knows they already do for everything else.