Need to Know!

November 5, 2015 9:07 pm

Things to Consider before Applying for a Rental Home

There is a great deal written for landlords about screening prospective residents… much less written for applicants about screening prospective landlords.  So here goes. What is it you should consider before signing on the bottom line of a rental agreement. There are the obvious, of course: Is the property attractive & well maintained? Are there units (available) that meet your needs – bedrooms, bathrooms, appliances, etc? What amenities are included – exercise facilities, a pool, spa, etc? Is there adequate parking and access to transportation?   Less obvious but equally important, are the landlord’s “tenant screening” practices – notably their rental criteria. So what is rental “criteria” and why do you and I care? Rental criteria are the standards by which a landlord evaluates a prospective tenant – often a document outlining various thresholds the applicant must meet to be granted tenancy – as well as those things that will result in denial of the application. Criteria includes one or more of the... View Article

October 12, 2015 6:11 pm

Screening Resident Managers – Tenants, Employees or Both??

It is reasonable  to take the position that resident managers (and other employees who live on “the property”) must satisfy the landlord’s rental criteria. The question arises, however, as to what “Permissible Purpose” applies and is relied upon to procure a screening report.  Is it tenant screening, employment screening or both? It is likely that this scenerio was not considered by the drafters of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  Nor is there legal or regulatory precendent to guide us.  So we are left to our own devices to determine which provisions apply. Owners and managers generally take the position that resident managers and employees must qualify for tenancy – by meeting or exceeding their tenant screening criteria.  Since the content and quality of tenant screening reports can equal or exceed that found in an employment background checks – few procure separate employment screening reports. True or False? The problem is that the FCRA imposes some additional requirements upon us (as a... View Article

September 21, 2015 3:43 pm

Investigative Consumer Reports, To Be or Not To Be

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and its progeny in state law focus heavily but not exclusively on consumer credit reporting. After all, the Congress, in its findings in Section 602 the FCRA [15 U.S.C.§ 1681] begins with the statement that: “The banking system is dependent upon fair and accurate credit reporting. Inaccurate credit reports directly impair the efficiency of the banking system, and unfair credit reporting methods undermine the public confidence which is essential to the continued functioning of the banking system.” But Congress goes on to say: “An elaborate mechanism has been developed for investigating and evaluating the credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, and general reputation of consumers… <and that> there is a need to insure that consumer reporting agencies exercise their grave responsibilities with fairness, impartiality, and a respect for the consumer’s right to privacy.” Consumer Reports are subsequently defined as “…any written, oral,... View Article

July 7, 2015 10:27 pm

Supreme Court, Disparate Impact & Tenant Screening

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered several important decisions in June of this year (2015).  One of those decisions has a direct impact on the rental housing industry – specifically, the tenant screening process. In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs(The Department) v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.(ICP), the court held that business practices that (even if unintentionally) have a disproportionate (or disparate) impact on protected group can form the basis of a Fair Housing Act (FHA) claim.   The case went something like this: ICP alleged that The Department fostered “…segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.” Relying on statistical evidence, the District Court decided in favor of plaintiff ICP, ruling that they succeeded in establishing that The Department’s allocation practices had a disparate impact based on race; and that while those practices met the business necessity test, The Department failed to show there were... View Article

May 29, 2015 9:17 pm

Tenant Screening – Importance of Access to Eviction Records

Many in the low income housing advocate community have pushed for legislation to limit access to eviction filings and dismissed case for tenant screening purposes. They argue that the practice is at best unfair and at worst, prejudicial – that many are dismissed due to lack of merit.  That has not been our experience. There is very little that is certain these days.  But one thing we can  count on is self-interest.  Filing merit-less eviction actions is absolutely contrary to the interest of the landlord.  Consider that: Evictions are time consuming! $$ Evictions negatively impact occupancy (rents)! $$$ Evictions are expensive – given legal fees and court costs!  $$$$ In fact, pursuing unlawful detainer actions to a decision is so expensive in time and treasure, that the majority of those filed are dismissed by the landlord when the resident pays or moves out. The risk of an occasional eviction is a fact of life for landlords – a risk of doing business.  We manage that... View Article

May 21, 2015 7:34 pm

The Unscorables – A Challenge for Landlords

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published a document entitled Data Point:  Credit Invisibles.  The purpose of the publication is “…to further the Bureau’s objective of providing an evidence-based perspective on consumer financial markets.” The focus of CFPB publication is that segment of the population with zero, very little or stale credit histories – who the CFPB describes as “credit invisibles” or “unscorables” and who  have great difficulty accessing credit markets. The Problem The challenges faced by credit invisible and unscorable consumers extends beyond access to credit – to other markets – including rental housing – as landlords have become increasingly reliant upon credit scores as part of their tenant screening process.  They do so because there is (presumably) a correlation between low scores and the likelihood of a failure to fulfill the terms of a rental agreement.  They do so as a way to remove subjectivity from the tenant screening process... View Article

April 15, 2015 11:33 pm

Portable Tenant Screening Reports – The Time Has Come!

Portable Tenant Screening Reports Paying multiple tenant screening fees before finding a landlord who will accept them is a significant hardship on low income applicants.  In extreme cases it can result in homelessness. Low income housing advocates have long sought a portable tenant screening report to address the problem – a single report (for a single tenant screening fee) that can be shared with multiple landlords. The Problem Under the traditional tenant screening model the landlord orders a tenant screening report from their tenant screening company.  The tenant screening company returns the report to the landlord.  The landlord decides whether to accept, accept conditionally (e.g. with an increased deposit or cosigner) or decline the applicant – based on their rental criteria.  The traditional model requires prior “certification” of the landlord by the tenant screening company – a costly and time consuming process. Traditional tenant screening reports are not portable – meaning the... View Article

March 18, 2015 12:01 am

Accuracy of Consumer Reporting…What’s the Fuss?!

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has long required that Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRA’s) and “furnishers” of consumer data exercise care in collecting, storing, and reselling consumer data. Section 607. Compliance procedures [15 U.S.C. § 1681e] (b) Accuracy of report.—Whenever a consumer reporting agency prepares a consumer report it shall follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates. Section 611. Procedure in case of disputed accuracy [15 U.S.C. § 1681i] (a)(1)(A) In general.— Subject to subsection (f), if the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file at a consumer reporting agency is disputed by the consumer and the consumer notifies the agency directly or indirectly through a reseller of such dispute, the agency shall, free of charge, conduct a reasonable reinvestigation to determine whether the disputed information is inaccurate and record the current... View Article

February 26, 2015 12:10 am

Employment Screening – A Legal & Regulatory Minefield Part 2 – The Beginning!

The hiring decision is obviously important – to employers and prospective employees.  Good decisions are the result of good (complete and accurate) information and a selection process that leads us safely through a legal and regulatory minefield – both of which are addressed in Part 1 of this series.  Part 2 (this post) speaks to the reasons behind the process. The Dilemma “Negligent hiring” is a well-established cause of action.  A quick internet search on key words “negligent hiring” and “criminal background” leaves no doubt. Ironically, steps taken to mitigate the risk of the negligent hiring claim increase the risk of a “disparate impact” discrimination claim – wherein a “facially neutral” business practice – such as use of criminal records for employment screening purposes – is found to have a disproportionate impact on one or more protected groups. “Business necessity” is the only defense against a “disparate impact” claim.  According to the Equal Employment... View Article

February 9, 2015 8:28 pm

Employment Screening – A Legal & Regulatory Minefield – Part 1 – The End!

A failure to thoroughly vet prospective employees can do considerable harm to a business.  Imagine for a moment that an employee commits a serious crime against persons or property and that they did so within the scope of their employment.  Imagine then that there existed a “discoverable propensity” (to commit such acts) and you didn’t even look! Most employers conduct employee background checks these days.  A failure to do so is hard to defend, therefore, should you be faced with a negligent hiring claim.  At the same time, the legal and regulatory environment for employment screening is growing increasingly complex. It is no longer enough to conduct employment background checks.  Those checks must be thorough, accurate and, equally important, “legally compliant” – which can (but doesn’t need to) be overwhelming – due to differences in state law. There is a path to run on, however, that will in most instances deliver the desired... View Article