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Housing Background Check Regulations Put Landlords at Risk

Housing Background Check Regulations Put Landlords at Risk

Housing background checks can help homeowners when renting their property by providing information on prospective tenants, such as their employment and income, credit history, and criminal record. This information can help homeowners and property owners make informed decisions about whom to rent to and can reduce the risk of financial loss and property damage. Additionally, professional background check investigations can help ensure compliance with fair housing laws and regulations and help keep a safe environment in a community.

In the United States, the regulations for background checks for tenants are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA sets standards for the collection, use, and dissemination of consumer credit information, including tenant background checks. Under the FCRA, landlords must have written permission from the tenant to conduct a background check. If the background check results in adverse action being taken against the tenant, such as denial of the rental application, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of the background check and a notice of their rights under the FCRA. Some states have their own regulations regarding tenant background checks that may impose additional requirements on landlords. Regardless of the specific state regulations, background checks for tenants are important to landlords.

Further complicating matters is the fact that most property owners fail to get actual background check investigations conducted by professional investigators.  Instead, many landlords pay for a fast and cheap database search sold as a ‘background check’ to search public records and criminal records, but these searches do not verify the subject’s background or identity.

Despite this, regulations are changing. Alameda County in California is the first in the country to prohibit landlords from conducting criminal background checks on prospective tenants. The Fair Chance for Housing Act, which is currently being debated in New York’s City Council, would also prohibit landlords from conducting criminal background checks.

Background checks on prospective tenants protect communities from murderers, robbers, arsonists, pedophiles and child predators, and other potential threats. According to the bill’s supporters, 750,000 New York City residents have criminal histories, which contributes to the city’s millions of homeless citizens. However, according to a recent census conducted by the Department of Housing Services, nearly 97 percent of the 750,000 New Yorkers with criminal convictions have a place to live. Having a criminal conviction is clearly not the barrier to housing that advocates claim.  Poverty leads to homelessness, not background checks.

On the other hand, according to a recent article, out of 3.6 million eviction court records, 22 percent of eviction cases are ambiguous or contain false records. As a result, the data reported in tenant screening reports and used to generate proprietary tenant risk scores is frequently ambiguous or out-of-date and may be incorrect.

Database searches of public records cannot replace a complete screening procedure carried out by a professional investigator and in no way reflect reliable or accurate data. The real issue is not whether background check investigations are an obstacle to housing, but mainly how poorly conducted database “background checks” affect people with no criminal history. Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for, and a real background check is an actual investigation, not just searching a database or the internet.  Be safe, and do it right the first time.

C. Wright

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