Feds Assess Background Screening’s Impact on Housing Access

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are requesting public comment on background screening issues affecting individuals who seek rental housing in the United States, including how the use of criminal and eviction records and algorithms affect tenant screening decisions and may be driving discriminatory outcomes.

The context: Renters are facing a range of challenges, from rising rents to a shortage of affordable rental housing. The agencies’ request for information (RFI) follows the White House’s release last month of a “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” which set forth principles intended to “create a shared baseline for fairness for renters in the housing market” and directed various federal agencies, including the CFPB and FTC, to take various actions to further those principles.

Among those actions was the issuance of RFIs seeking information on background screening practices and their potential effect on people’s ability to obtain rental housing as part of a whole-of-government effort to address these issues.

One level deeper: As part of the RFI, the FTC and CFPB are asking current tenants, prospective tenants, advocacy groups, commercial and individual landlords, property managers, background screening companies, other consumer reporting agencies, and others to weigh in on a wide array of issues that affect tenant screening such as:

  • How criminal and eviction records are used by landlords and property managers in making housing decisions;
  • How potential inaccuracies in criminal and other records affect rental housing decisions;
  • Whether consumers are informed about the criteria used in tenant screening or notified about what information in their background check led to their rejection;
  • How landlords and property managers are setting application and screening fees;
  • How algorithms, automated decision-making, artificial intelligence, or similar technology are used in the tenant screening process; and
  • Whether there are ways to improve the current tenant screening process.

The bottom line: In seeking input on such issues as use of criminal and eviction records, algorithms in the tenant screening process, and any adverse impact on underserved communities, the RFI comments may help inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which the FTC and CFPB both enforce, also imposes requirements on many aspects of the tenant screening process.

Weigh in: Interested parties have until May 30 to submit comments here. Once submitted, comments will be posted to Regulations.gov.