September 26, 2023 — Report

Landlords in the United States almost always engage in some form of screening of rental applicants. This screening often involves reports or scores purchased from specialized tenant screening consumer reporting agencies (CRAs). The reports typically combine information about eviction filings, criminal records, and credit history. Often the reports include a score or recommendation based on these records, and in some cases, this score or recommendation is the only information conveyed to the landlord.

Each of the components of tenant screening reports is highly problematic and also creates a disparate impact on Black and Latino/Hispanic renters. The manner in which tenant screening CRAs combine these components to generate scores or recommendations, and the way that landlords use these scores or recommendations, also harms renters.

This report discusses some of the most significant problems with tenant screening, including:

  • Heavy reliance on scores and recommendations.
  • Lack of transparency of screening criteria.
  • Failure to consider mitigating information of additional context.
  • Disputes are ineffective.
  • Criminal records are not predictive, are often inaccurate, perpetuate racial disparities, and undermine state policy.
  • Eviction records are plagued with inaccuracies and racial disparities.
  • Use of credit reports and scores is widely prevalent but problematic.
  • Failure to provide adverse action notices.

To obtain detailed information about the experience of tenant screening in the field, NCLC conducted a survey of attorneys, advocates and counselors in April 2023. Our survey asked 15 questions, which were developed in consultation with the National Housing Law Project. We received 253 responses from 35 states and Washington, D.C.

The report discusses these survey results; discusses the most significant problems with tenant screening in depth; and makes recommendations to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Congress, and the states.

The report is based on a regulatory comment filed with the FTC and the CFPB in response to those agencies’ call for information on tenant screening.