HUD Warns About Using AI for Tenant Screening and Advertising

HUD has issued two warnings about using AI for tenant screening and advertising due to potential Fair Housing violations using AI

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued two guidance documents addressing the application of the Fair Housing Act to two areas in which the use of artificial intelligence (AI) poses particular concerns: the tenant-screening process and its application to the advertising of housing opportunities through online platforms that use targeted ads, according to a release.

“We have released new guidance to ensure that our partners in the private sector who utilize artificial intelligence and algorithms are aware of how the Fair Housing Act applies to these practices,” acting HUD Secretary Adrianne Todman said in the release.

Demetria McCain, principal deputy assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity said, “Housing providers, tenant-screening companies, advertisers and online platforms should be aware that the Fair Housing Act applies to tenant screening and the advertising of housing, including when artificial intelligence and algorithms are used to perform these functions.”

“Housing providers have a legitimate interest in selecting tenants who will pay their rent and otherwise comply with lawful requirements of their lease. However, some tenant-screening practices do not in fact serve these goals.

“Tenant screening based on imprecise or overbroad criteria may unjustifiably exclude people from housing opportunities in discriminatory ways. These issues have been magnified in recent years by the increasing reliance by housing providers on tenant-screening companies to drive tenant-selection decisions.

“An increasing number of tenant-screening companies claim that they use advanced technologies, such as machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence (“AI”). These technologies can increase these companies’ capacity to access and analyze information about applicants that has not been widely used for rental decisions until recently but may have little bearing on whether someone will comply with their lease.

“These technologies can also lead to a less transparent process by obscuring the precise reasons for a denial from the housing provider and applicant,” HUD says. “The Fair Housing Act applies to housing decisions regardless of what technology is used. Both housing providers and tenant-screening companies have a responsibility to avoid using these technologies in a discriminatory manner.”

On the advertising side, HUD cautioned that online advertising-targeting tools are covered by the Fair Housing Act. The release said violations  “may also occur when ad targeting and delivery functions are used, on the basis of protected characteristics, to target vulnerable consumers for predatory products or services, display content that could discourage or deter potential consumers, or charge different amounts for delivered advertisements.”

Read the full statement here.

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