Utilizing background checks and credit reports to determine one’s character and financial trustworthiness is standard practice when applying for jobs, loans, insurance, etc. Applying to rent a house or apartment is no exception.
Landlords can request tenant screening reports to review a simplified summary of a prospective renter’s rental history. These reports provide a quick snapshot of any past-due or delinquent payments, evictions, and any legal actions taken against you in the past.
False information in your screening report can significantly impact your ability to obtain housing, secure a loan, or renter’s insurance. Being denied housing based on untrue information is devastating. Tenant screening reports can contain errors, but you can take steps to have the information corrected.
What Information Is Included in a Tenant Screening Report?
Tenant screening reports include information related to your financial and rental history and any criminal activity. Landlords use these reports to determine whether or not to rent to you. Reports include:
- Credit history.
- Rental history, including the number of late payments and evictions.
- Employment verification.
- Criminal activity or convictions.
- Sex offender registry status.
- National terrorist activity or inclusion on terrorist watch lists.
Based on this information, the report generates a risk score and may include additional information, depending on what criteria the landlord requests from the screening company.
What if My Report Contains Inaccurate Information?
Tenant screening reports frequently contain erroneous information, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. False information can result in landlords denying your rental application, so take the time to review your reports before applying to allow yourself time to correct any inaccuracies.
There are many companies landlords can choose to request tenant screening reports, some offering quick turnaround times to generate reports. Some offer instant access to reports, and most offer reports within 24 hours.
The speed with which these reports are generated leaves a wide margin for error, the most common being incomplete, mixed, or misleading information. Mismatched and mixed information occurs when the screening company uses incomplete personal information, or partial records rather than full, to match the records being searched. This can include someone else’s criminal or sex offender history on your report, mainly if the names are the same or similar.
Tenant screening companies must follow the laws outlined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when generating and selling reports. Under the FCRA, the federal government recognizes tenant screening companies as consumer reporting agencies, the same as those who generate financial credit reports and credit scores. The FCRA states that agencies must have procedures and policies ensuring that all information contained in their reports has the maximum level of accuracy. Companies that provide reports containing false, incomplete, and old information show the company failed their due diligence in providing current and accurate information.
Under the FCRA, any landlord who denies your application based on the screening report must inform you of the adverse actions leading to their decision. Possible adverse actions based on screening reports typically include:
- Denial of the application.
- Requiring a co-signer in order to be accepted.
- Charging a higher deposit.
- Charging a higher rent amount than their usual rate.
The FCRA also protects you, the consumer, and outlines your rights regarding screening reports and your ability to dispute inaccurate information. If you discover errors on your tenant screening report, you have the right to dispute them to have the information corrected.
In addition to providing the reasons for your application denial, the landlord must also provide you with the following regarding the reporting agency:
- The name of the credit reporting agency providing the report, along with the address and contact information for the company.
- A statement assuring the decision to take adverse action was the landlord’s only, not that of the reporting agency.
- A summary of your rights, your right to dispute the information, and your right to a free copy of the company’s report within 60 days.
How Do I Dispute False Information?
If you discover errors on your tenant screening report, you can file a dispute with the credit reporting agency. It is best to submit the dispute in writing and provide a copy of your government-issued identification and any supporting documents verifying your identity, along with a detailed statement of which portions of your report are inaccurate.
The agency has 30 days from the date they receive your request to investigate the inaccurate information and report to you the investigation findings. Mailing your dispute via certified mail not only informs you that the company received your package, but also provides you with the date the 30-day process begins. Keep any written communication you receive from the agency and take notes of phone conversations.
If the agency’s investigation reveals incorrect information in your report, they are required to take steps to correct it. If the housing you applied for is still available, ask the company to immediately send an updated report to the landlord and a letter detailing what portions of the report were inaccurate and corrected.
If the agency determines the original report is correct but you still believe the information is wrong, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the company if you can show your rights have been violated. Given the complexities of suing reporting agencies, you should retain a lawyer. The FCRA requires that tenant screening companies pay your attorney fees and court costs should you initiate a lawsuit.
Pittsburgh Consumer Fraud Attorneys at East End Trial Group Represent Clients Disputing Inaccurate Tenant Screening Reports
Tenant screening reports are a valuable tool for landlords to determine whether or not to accept prospective renters. Unfortunately, inaccurate reports are common. If you feel your tenant screening report contains false information, one of our Pittsburgh consumer fraud attorneys at East End Trial Group can help. Call us at 412-223-5740 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pittsburgh, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.