Tenant Background Checks and Your Rights

a resource for rental housing applicants and tenants about their rights under federal laws related to tenant background checks

The Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) jointly published a resource for rental housing applicants and tenants about their rights under federal laws related to tenant background checks, also referred to as tenant screening reports.

The Justice Department and HUD enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other civil rights statutes, and the FTC and CFPB enforce the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

“Rental housing applicants and tenants across our country should not be denied housing opportunities because of unjust background checks and discriminatory screening policies,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a release. “Landlords and background check companies cannot use or ask for unnecessary information to deny someone housing. Today we are shining a light on the bad practices that can emerge when landlords maintain unjust screening policies, ensuring that applicants and tenants know their rights, and that housing providers and background check companies are on notice regarding their obligations under federal law.”

“Mistakes in your background check shouldn’t cost you a home or create one more hurdle to overcome as you search for affordable housing,” said Director Samuel Levine of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This collaboration among FTC, CFPB, HUD and the Justice Department helps consumers know their rights, and what to do if landlords or background check companies break the law.”

“Tenants have rights when landlords deny housing based on tenant screening reports,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “These reports often rely on hidden data and complex algorithms and can cause serious harm to families seeking housing. Anyone who thinks they were wrongly denied housing because of a tenant screening report can file a complaint with the CFPB.”

“People seeking housing have a right to be free from discrimination, including during the tenant screening process,” said HUD Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Demetria McCain. “HUD is excited to be a part of the release of this joint agency resource that contains important information about the Fair Housing Act’s protections against discriminatory background checks. We encourage anyone who suspects they are being discriminated against to file a complaint with HUD.”

The new resource provides information about how tenant background checks work, what kinds of background information a landlord might receive from tenant background check companies, how applicants and tenants can respond if they think that information is wrong and their rights under federal laws.

It also explains that, in some instances, tenant background checks can lead to illegal discrimination, even if there is no factual error in the report. The FHA makes it illegal for tenant background check companies and housing providers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability or familial status. A landlord cannot reject an application or treat an applicant or tenant differently than other applicants or tenants because of any of these characteristics. Actions of a tenant background check company or a landlord can also be illegal if they use or encourage the use of irrelevant or unnecessary information to deny individuals housing, and this negatively affects some groups more than others – this may be discrimination even if the tenant background check company or landlord does not intend to discriminate.

The resource also explains an individual’s rights under the FCRA, including the right to request a free copy of a report from the tenant background check company if a landlord makes a negative housing decision because of something included in the report and the right to dispute errors on a report. Tenant background check companies are required to take reasonable steps to ensure the information in tenant background check reports is accurate and to investigate within 30 days when someone disputes errors in their report.

Read the joint resource here.