Background Checks

One area I don’t discuss very often is background checks done on people seeking apartments.  Real problems can come up, though, if the background checking company fails to make sure its information is accurate.

Here’s a classic example, as reported by Josh Marshall with WHOU in Houston, Texas:

“Every time you rent a place to live, there’s a process. The application, deposit, and background check.  What happens when your background check isn’t really you? You’re denied housing and falsely labeled a criminal?

It happened to Terence Walker.

The bedridden veteran, who’s struggling with diabetes and whose left leg will be amputated, didn’t expect the fight when he had plans to move his family into a Dallas-area apartment in March. As standard procedure, the husband and father of two filled out a housing application at [an apartment complex] about 25 miles north of downtown.

Shortly after, Walker received an urgent email from management.  ‘Our system is showing you have a criminal background,’ the email read.  The thing is, he has no criminal history.  ‘Obviously, I was livid,’ he said.”

What can be done to avoid situations like this one?  “If you have a common name, you are more prone to inaccuracies because there are more people sharing your name. With courts withholding more information from companies that perform background checks…the process is becoming more difficult.”

What the article doesn’t say is that the same standards apply to prospective renters as apply to prospective employees.  Both groups are protected by the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  Seldom are we asked to do background checks on prospective renters, but on those rare occasions when we are, we follow the guidelines of the FCRA.

In the foregoing instance, Walker’s inaccurate background was corrected, but by the time it was he had found other accommodations about ten minutes away from the apartment complex where he originally applied.