We can provide criminal records checks, eviction records, bankruptcies liens and judgments, civil records checks on your prospective tenants.
These services are available to apartment complexes, property management companies and real estate rental firms.
Thousands of landlords turn to background screening companies for information about housing applicants and current tenants.
If you’re in the business of compiling background information for housing purposes, there are two things you need to know:
1) Federal law – including the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) – applies to companies in your line of work; and
2) Tenant background screening companies are typically “consumer reporting agencies” covered by the FCRA.
When is a tenant background screening company a “consumer reporting agency”?
Background screening reports are “consumer reports” under the FCRA when they serve as a factor in determining a person’s eligibility for housing, employment, credit, insurance, or other purposes and they include information “bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living.”
Companies that sell or provide those reports are “consumer reporting agencies” under the FCRA.
So even if you don’t think of your company as a consumer reporting agency, it may be one if it provides information about people to landlords for use in housing decisions.
If your tenant background screening company is a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA, what does the law require you to do?
Follow reasonable procedures to assure accuracy.
Among other things, the FCRA requires you to establish and follow “reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.”
Certain practices may be indicators that a background screening company isn’t following reasonable procedures.
For example, if a report lists criminal convictions for people other than the applicant or tenant – for instance, a person with a middle name or date of birth different from the applicant’s – that raises FCRA compliance concerns.
Other indications that a company’s procedures might not be reasonable include screening reports with multiple entries for the same offense or that list criminal records that have been expunged or otherwise sealed.
Get certifications from your clients.
Consumer reporting agencies may provide consumer reports only to those with a specific permissible purpose, like housing. So verify that your clients are legitimate and get them to certify that they will use the reports only for housing purposes.
Your clients may obtain written permission from the consumer that is the subject of the report to show that they have a permissible purpose.
Provide your clients with information about the FCRA.
The FCRA requires you to provide your clients with information about their responsibilities under the statute (Notice to Users of Consumer Reports), which you can provide with the background screening report or before providing a report.
This is a standard document available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Honor the rights of applicants and tenants. The FCRA gives consumers certain rights with which you must comply.
For example, you must give them access to their files when they ask for them, conduct a reasonable investigation when they dispute the accuracy of information, and give them written notice of the results of investigations.
When providing consumers with a copy of their reports, you must include a summary of their rights under the FCRA (A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act), which is a standard document available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It’s a violation of the FCRA not to respond in a timely way to consumers’ inquiries and disputes. Another FCRA violation: creating unreasonable obstacles for consumers trying to exercise their rights under the FCRA.
Where can I find citations to relevant portions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act?
Here are cites to some of the provisions mentioned in this publication.
FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT PROVISION
15 U.S.C. § 1681a(d)
definition of a “consumer report”
15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(1)(A)
certifications from employers as a condition of furnishing and using consumer reports for employment purposes
15 U.S.C. § 1681b(a)(3)(F)
permissible purpose for consumer reports
15 U.S.C. § 1681c
information excluded from consumer reports
15 U.S.C. § 1681e(a)
required user identity verification and permissible purpose certification
15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b)
consumer reporting agencies’ obligation to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of information
15 U.S.C. § 1681e(d)
required notice of user responsibilities
15 U.S.C. § 1681g(a)
consumer reporting agencies’ obligation to disclose to consumers all information in their file
15 U.S.C. § 1681g(c)(2)
consumer reporting agencies’ obligation to provide consumers with a summary of rights
15 U.S.C. § 1681h
form of disclosure to consumers of their file
15 U.S.C. § 1681i
consumers’ right to challenge information they believe is inaccurate and consumer reporting agencies’ obligation to reinvestigate
15 U.S.C. §681j
charges for disclosures to consumers of information in their files
Resources for Business
To find out more about federal laws relating to background reports, visit www.business.ftc.gov, or call the FTC toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
For additional information on tenant background reports, read:
Using Consumer Reports: What Landlords Need to Know
Your Opportunity to Comment
The National Small Business Ombudsman and 10 Regional Fairness Boards collect comments from small businesses about federal compliance and enforcement activities.
Each year, the Ombudsman evaluates the conduct of these activities and rates each agency’s responsiveness to small businesses.
Small businesses can comment to the Ombudsman without fear of reprisal. To comment, call toll-free 1-888-REGFAIR (1-888-734-3247) or go to sba.gov/ombudsman.