This blog was originally posted on July 1, 2021 and has been updated on April 19, 2022 to reflect new information.
Renting a home can be hard, with high demand, costly rent, and security deposits. Now, many people and families who struggled financially to hold onto their rental housing during the pandemic are having to search for new rental housing and are anxious about finding affordable and safe homes. Errors in your tenant screening report shouldn’t hold you back from having a place to call home.
Negative rental information, like records of eviction filings or rental payments in debt collection that appear in your credit report, can have a huge impact on your ability to find rental housing, get a loan, and pursue other opportunities. The impact can be even more devastating when the information is wrong or misleading. We want you to know what you can do to protect yourself and take action if you are denied rental housing or your credit report is harmed because of errors in your tenant screening report.
What is a tenant screening report?
Many landlords use a tenant screening report to help them decide whether to rent to you, and how much to charge you for a security deposit. Tenant screening reports differ, and not all reports will include the same types of information. The reports may include:
- Credit reports
- Rental history information including eviction lawsuits
- Employment verification
- Criminal history
- Sex offender registries
- National terrorist watchlist
- A risk score or recommendation based on criteria selected by the landlord
How do I get a copy of my credit report?
- You can get a free copy of your credit reports from the big three nationwide consumer reporting agencies– TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax - free every week until December 31, 2022 at . You can do this any time, to check your credit information before you apply for new rental housing. If you find errors, you can dispute them.
- Find more information about consumer reporting companies and requesting your consumer reports.
How do I request a copy of a tenant screening report?
If your rental application is rejected due to information in a tenant screening report, this is considered an “adverse action.” Landlords are required to inform you of this “adverse action” and you have the right to request a free copy of the report from the tenant screening company the landlord used. Another example of an “adverse action” includes charging you a higher security deposit if a tenant screening report or credit report was used in that decision. The landlord is also required to tell you:
- The name, address, and phone number of the company that provided the report;
- That you have the right to get a free copy of the report if you request it within 60 days of being notified of the adverse action;
- That you have a right to dispute inaccurate information.
You can request reports from any tenant screening company. However, there are many tenant screening companies and any report you request from one company might be different than the tenant screening company used by a prospective landlord.
How do I check for errors in my credit or tenant screening reports?
First, check your report for common errors, like accounts or public records information, such as an eviction, belonging to another person with the same or similar name.
Second, check for protections that may apply to you if you experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic. Federal and state laws created programs and protections for renters and landlords related to evictions and past-due rental debt, which may affect your tenant screening report. For example:
- The federal CARES Act prohibited the charging of late fees by many types of landlords between March 27 and July 24, 2020.
- You or your landlord may have received emergency rental assistance funds that reduced or eliminated your rental debt.
- You might live in a state that allowed for sealing or expunging of eviction filings or prohibited certain types of fees or debt collection activities related to rental debt due to the pandemic.
Check to make sure your tenant screening report reflects these protections. If you find errors or incomplete or outdated information in your tenant screening report, dispute the information with the company that generated the report as well as with the person or company that provided, or “furnished,” the information. We have detailed information on how to dispute an error on your reports and how to add a statement explaining your dispute to your consumer reporting file.
If you have negative accurate information in your tenant screening reports ─ such as late payments, an eviction, or criminal history ─ and you are denied for rental housing, be prepared to explain to the landlord the details of the situation, and ask if the landlord will consider the full situation when making a decision. A landlord that refuses to rent to anyone with a criminal history record may be violating the Fair Housing Act.
Where can I find more help?
If you need more help to get your consumer reports corrected, or find rental housing:
Get free housing help. If you’d like help from a local expert, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s housing counseling program.
Get help with your credit reports. Reputable credit counseling organizations are generally non-profit organizations that can advise you on your money and debts and help you with a budget. Read more about protecting your credit during the pandemic.
If you have a problem with credit or consumer reporting, such as tenant screening, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). You may also be able make a complaint to your state consumer protection office.
Contact a lawyer. If you need help understanding your rights regarding your consumer reports, debt collection, or rental housing, or think your rights may have been violated, talk to a lawyer. You may qualify for free legal aid, depending on your income.