Unfair background screening practices create barriers to housing.
March 13, 2023
No one should be shut out of housing because of inaccurate or unfair background screening practices. Tenant screening reports, used by housing providers in deciding who to rent to, often include an applicant’s rental history, credit report, criminal background check, and records of civil cases where the applicant is a party, such as eviction or debt collection cases. More needs to be done to ensure that these reports are accurate and unbiased and reduce the stigma against people with arrest and conviction or eviction histories.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the primary federal consumer protection agencies, have asked for public comment on whether tenant screening companies and landlord screening practices “may be driving discriminatory outcomes” for renters. Tenants, rental applicants, housing advocates, landlords, and other interested parties are encouraged to describe how the use of “credit reports, credit scores, and criminal and civil (including eviction) public records” negatively affect people’s ability to obtain safe, stable, and affordable housing.
This FTC and CFPB action came just weeks after the White House announced that, for the first time ever, the FTC would use its authority under the Federal Trade Commission Act to regulate “unfair” or “deceptive” practices in the housing industry, including landlords’ use of tenant screening reports.
“Recent federal actions are encouraging,” said Eric Sirota, Director of Housing Justice at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, who, along with Kim Johnson of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), heads the Partnership for Just Housing. “The Shriver Center and our coalition partners have been pushing federal agencies to take a leadership role in reining in abusive and discriminatory practices in the rental industry.”
In November 2022, Sirota participated in a White House meeting to discuss ways to strengthen tenant protections for groups facing considerable obstacles to renting, including people with arrest and conviction histories, Black and Brown people, LGBTQ+ community members, and people with disabilities. The Shriver Center and our partners have long advocated for federal consumer protection agencies to take a more prominent role in regulating tenant screening practices that keep people with arrest and conviction histories out of quality affordable housing.
The Shriver Center’s 2021 report, Screened Out, describes how tenant screening companies perpetuate housing discrimination in communities of color. The report found that the tenant screening industry is largely unregulated, ubiquitous and frequently undermines laws passed by state and local legislative bodies to ensure equal access to housing.
Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.
Housing is fundamental to achieving economic stability, better health outcomes, and thriving families and communities.