If Tenant Screening Errors Tank Your Rental Prospects, the Best Way to a Full Recovery is with a Skilled Dispute Lawyer
As a renter, you know how daunting the application process can be at times. At its best, the landlord-tenant dynamic requires ultimate vulnerability as you submit information and documents for judgment about your worthiness to rent a particular property. It’s hard enough when you’re rejected due to a legitimate concern. Maybe your income stream isn’t quite high enough compared to your outstanding debts at the time of application. Hard to take? Yes, but fair enough.
But when you face rental rejections due to inaccurate, misleading, or false information in your tenant screening, the negative impact on your financial and emotional well-being can be fully traumatic.
If you or someone you love are currently dealing with the turmoil stirred up by this type of rental rejection, understanding your rights is critical. Federal and state law afford layers of protection for renters who find themselves on the other end of these errors. Having a conversation with a qualified and experienced tenant screening report lawyer can be the pivotal decision that helps get your life back on track as soon as possible.
At Consumer Attorneys, our team of top-tier lawyers aren’t just litigators, we’re advocates. Our lawyers fight for fairness in a consumer economy that strongly favors big company profits over hardworking people. Keep reading to learn about your rights, how to dispute and correct errors, and get compensation to make you whole again. I explain everything you need to know once you learn that tenant background screening errors have derailed your rental plans.
What type of lawyers can help in this situation?
Whether you call us a landlord tenant screening report errors lawyer (which is how some people search for us) or some other version of the same thing, we are consumer protection lawyers. Consumer protection law is a broad category of legal practice encompassing essentially every legal issue that arises out of the power dynamic between corporate interests and consumer rights.
Because one of the most prevalent types of consumer abuse centers on buying, selling, and using consumer data, the fallout from data errors is frequently at the heart of many of the legal issues consumer protection lawyers handle.
Specifically, the fallout from data errors in tenant background screening reports is a major contributor to the legal work consumer protection lawyers undertake. At Consumer Attorneys, our lawyers help prospective renters and tenant applicants recover from the financial and emotional stress of these errors every single day. Rest assured, you are not alone in being victimized by a tenant screening protocol with systemic problems. Thousands of people are put in the same position every year.
And you are not alone in getting help. Protecting consumers is what our lawyers do best!
How are Tenant Screening Errors Harmful?
For starters, if the prospective landlord or property management company owns several, many, or even a lot of properties in your price range, these errors can block you from housing opportunities across a broad area. Second, this is compounded even more by the fact that most companies providing tenant screening reports are large, dominant forces in the industry. This means that even if you apply through another landlord or property management company, they may use the same tenant background screening platform.
And whether it’s the same landlord or the same screening company, the end result is… it’s the same errors!
Tenants who find themselves in this situation can have profound housing insecurity issues. Some people end up trapped in unhealthy or inconvenient living situations or face relocation, long commutes, or housing assistance. As any consumer protection lawyer can attest to, the financial and emotional toll of these errors adds up quickly.
What is a Tenant Screening Report?
A tenant screening report is similar to a credit report. Understanding how they are compiled is helpful in understanding how they can go wrong. Tenant background screening companies can be standalone companies or subsidiaries of larger credit reporting companies. Either way, they work the same way.
Tenant screening companies use algorithms to gather, select, sort, and process consumer information. A tenant screening profile is generated when data relating to an individual applicant is gathered and compiled. The screening report can include such information as rental and eviction history, payment and credit history, criminal history, identity verification, social security number traces, relevant municipal details, etc.
Depending on the company, this data may also be analyzed using a proprietary formula that assigns the applicant a rating or score. The latter is very similar to the process of assigning a credit score. In fact, an applicant’s credit score is usually part of the formula used to generate a rental score.
Landlords and property management companies use the tenant screening report to assess whether an applicant is likely to fulfill the lease obligations, damage or abandon the property, make timely payments, require eviction, etc.
Notably, tenant screening reports and the processes of data analysis that go into them have received well-deserved criticism and heightened legal scrutiny over the years for incorporating racial and other biases into the formula. Whether intentional or not, these biases have resulted in demonstrable unfairness in how they guide the decision-making process and have caused real-world harm to applicants.
What are your rights as a prospective tenant under the law?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is one of the major federal laws regulating the consumer data industry. Under the FCRA, tenant screening companies are considered consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) because they gather, process, and report consumer data.
The CRAs buy their data from the companies you do business with, such as credit card companies, banks, mortgage lenders, auto finance lenders, service providers, etc. The latter are known as data furnishers under the FCRA because they furnish or provide the data. CRAs also buy data from third-party companies that gather data by scanning municipal, county, and state records, among others.
The FCRA recognizes a host of consumer rights regarding how their data is handled in this for-profit enterprise of collecting and reporting. This also applies to the handling of data for the production of tenant screening profiles. Among the legal rights afforded to prospective tenants with respect to screenings are the following:
- The right to only be subject to authorized tenant background screenings. Failure to obtain your express consent to run a tenant screening report violates the FCRA.
- The right to accurate information in your tenant report. Yes, it is your legal right to have your data handled in a way that reflects an accurate portrait of you as an individual consumer.
- The right to receive and review the tenant screening report. The company that ran the report must provide you with a copy. Frequently, you can select to automatically receive a copy once it’s generated. If this option is not available, you are still entitled to request and review it.
- The right to know which specific information in the tenant screening report was used to make an adverse decision regarding your rental application.
- The right to request and review your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) annually for free. Even if your credit report is not the direct source of the error, we recommend requesting and reviewing them as a precautionary measure and for confirmation that no other errors are present throughout your consumer profile.
There are three ways that consumers can request a copy of their free credit report: online at annualcreditreport.com, by phone at 877-322-8228, or by mailing a request form, which can be printed at annualcreditreport.com. Online requests should only be made through the above government-verified site.
- The right to dispute inaccurate, misleading, or false data in your report. (Please read my discussion of the dispute process below to learn important considerations.)
- The right to file a lawsuit to seek error correction and compensation for financial, emotional, or other harm as a result of erroneous reporting, shoddy investigations, and the failure to correct mistakes. Though most people opt to work a lawyer when pursuing a lawsuit, it is not a requirement.
- The right to not incur any additional costs and expenses from the process of disputing the errors and correcting your tenant profile. This includes the costs and expenses arising from working with a consumer protection lawyer. That’s right - the FCRA gives you the right to free legal support to fight data errors in your tenant screening data. If you win a lawsuit against the CRA, they pay your lawyer’s legal bills. If you don’t win, the lawyer doesn’t get paid.
What are the tenant screening company’s legal obligations to you?
The FCRA doesn’t just give you rights you can enforce to protect yourself. It also holds the screening companies and other CRAs legally accountable for certain things on their end, such as:
- They must use “reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” in collecting and reporting consumer data. This is the corporate corollary to your right to accurate information. It sets a legal expectation that the companies will make every effort to produce factually correct, legally reportable, transparent information that reflects an accurate portrait of your consumer experience.
- They must provide a way for you to dispute errors in your data. The tenant screening company must provide a mechanism for dispute, whether via mail, phone, email, online, etc. (Please read my discussion of the dispute process below to learn important considerations.)
- They must adequately, effectively, and properly investigate any disputed information. In addition, the length of the investigation is set by legal deadlines.
- They must correct errors in your report and tenant profile, including correcting any computations completed with the erroneous data, such as generating a new rental score.
- They must make you whole again by compensating you for any financial and emotional harm suffered if you win a lawsuit.
- If you win, they must pay for all the legal costs and fees your lawyers incur to represent you in a lawsuit. If you do not win the lawsuit, you still do not owe anything. Your lawyers just absorb the loss because that’s how the system works.
What to Do If You Have Errors in Your Tenant Screening Report
Whether your rental application has been approved or denied, if your tenant screening data contains mistakes, you should initiate a dispute by doing the following:
- Contact tenant screening dispute lawyers. Also known as consumer protection lawyers, they can answer questions, offer legal guidance, and build a plan to protect your rights from the moment you discover that you’ve been harmed all the way through to filing a lawsuit and correcting the errors. Being in direct communication with a lawyer throughout the dispute process is incredibly helpful.
At Consumer Attorneys, our tenant screening dispute lawyers have navigated the complex legal landscape of these matters from coast to coast. For peace of mind and ease of process, start with a phone call or email to our office today.
- Review your tenant screening profile in detail. Once you know that you’ve been denied a rental due to information in your tenant background screening report, review it thoroughly. If inaccurate, misleading, or false information was the determinative factor in your rental rejection, you can dispute it. Look for any other subtle, nuanced, or even glaring errors.
Importantly, if the information on which the decision was based is factually correct, but not quite accurate, or not the whole story, that counts as an error, too! In fact, even if something just seems off or unfair about the data, you should contact a lawyer to discuss whether it constitutes a reporting error.
For instance, state laws limit the look-back period for certain types of events (such as evictions, bankruptcies, etc.). If you’ve been rejected due to a factually accurate eviction that happened seven years prior and that seems unfair, you may be right, and it may also be illegal. Your state may limit the eviction look-back period to five years because the legislators agree that it is unfair to consider an eviction history earlier than that.
- Review your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus. Request and review copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). It’s possible that the errors showing up in your tenant screening are consistent across other reports, and knowing the full extent of the problem is important.
- File a dispute. Follow the steps outlined by the tenant screening company for filing a dispute. This typically entails writing a dispute letter that sets forth the specific information in question and offers supporting evidence of its wrongfulness. Documentation is also frequently requested and required.
Be aware that many CRAs, including tenant screening companies, provide online dispute platforms, suggesting they offer ease and expediency. However, using these online platforms may require you to agree to terms and conditions that sharply limit or waive your rights regarding the dispute.
For instance, it may require you to waive your right to bring a lawsuit. Clearly, waiving your legal rights to any aspect of resolving this dispute at the outset of the process is a bad idea. As tenant screening dispute lawyers, we know firsthand why this is a tool that companies attempt to limit from the start. Rest assured, it’s a strategy that works in their favor.
We recommend you file the dispute and provide documentation via certified mail, keeping detailed notes and receipts.
- Consult a lawyer. Whether you’ve already had a consultation with a tenant screening error lawyer or you’ve been going it alone up to this point, now is a great time to seek legal counsel and discuss the possibility of a lawsuit. Even after the dispute process has commenced, a lawyer can advise you on the legal obligations and expectations shaping the dispute process and offer guidance on whether a lawsuit is necessary to restore your financial and emotional health and right to housing security.
What do Tenant Background Check Attorneys Do?
Tenant background check lawyers see you through every stage and phase of the dispute, resolution, and compensation process. From the moment you discover that an error in your tenant background screening resulted in an application and housing rejection, a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer is your best resource for a complete recovery!
At Consumer Attorneys, our consumer protection lawyers are leading-edge advocates and litigators, working tirelessly to defend your right to fair and accurate reporting when it comes to the financial decisions that impact you the most. From our free initial consultation all the way through to the final resolution of your rental profile errors, the return of your financial and emotional health, and just compensation for your suffering, we bring advanced knowledge, peace of mind, and representation from coast to coast.
A skilled and experienced lawyer will help you:
- find resolution;
- correct errors, including inaccurate, misleading, and false information and otherwise accurate but non-reportable information under specific state laws;
- repair reporting errors that bleed into other consumer profiles, such as credit reports;
- overcome stalls, delays, and roadblocks;
- protect your rights;
- hold the responsible parties accountable;
- push back on insufficient and inadequate investigations;
- enforce statutory time restrictions;
- prevent further damages from continued reporting;
- get compensation for your financial and emotional damages.
Beware Credit Repair Companies
Some companies marketing themselves as credit repair agencies will also advertise their ability to help clear errors from your tenant screening report. Often, you guarantee them a specific sum of money for their services, and they guarantee you absolutely nothing, including error correction in your rental profile.
As you know by now, tenant screening dispute lawyers don’t guarantee an outcome either. But what we do guarantee is:
- There is no out-of-pocket cost to you. Not only are you NOT paying us up front, you’re not paying us any money ever. The law says that the tenant screening companies that generated the error-laden report must pay for our legal bills when we sue them and win.
- Our extensive legal training, knowledge, and experience will power your dispute. Our lawyers have the education, negotiation, and courtroom experience to take on tenant screening companies of all sizes and win! Knowing the law inside and out through years of rigorous education and experience makes your consumer protection lawyer a priceless ally.
- We are professionals bound by legal and ethical standards of excellence. As lawyers, we are bound by legal, ethical, and professional duties of care in representing you. Once you become our client, we must act in your best interest, bringing integrity and zealous advocacy to every step of the process.
- If and when a lawsuit is necessary, we’re ready and able to file. Frequently, despite company dispute and resolution policies and procedures, investigations are shoddy, error corrections are inadequate, and lawsuits are the only way to protect yourself and restore your consumer profile.
We’re not just a company looking to cash in on your bad luck. We’re the professionals the FCRA empowered to help you. This is why the law makes the rental screening companies pay our costs and fees when we win. Consumer protection lawyers are an integral and essential part of a healthy and functioning regulatory system.
Can You Get Compensation From Suing a Tenant Screening Company for Errors?
Yes. Two things entitle you to compensation for tenant screening errors. First, you are entitled to compensation if you suffer financial, emotional, or other harm due to the errors. Second, for certain errors, the mere act of reporting them is considered egregious enough to warrant compensation, whether or not you can demonstrate actual harm. This is one of the many reasons why working with a lawyer is critical. Like all areas of the law where federal, state, and local laws intersect, nuance and complexity require professional knowledge and experience to sort, select, and apply for the best possible outcome.
You are entitled to compensation for damages (to make you whole), punitive compensation (to punish the company for its bad practices), and error correction.
What are the Lawyer Fees for Handling Tenant Background Check Errors?
There are no lawyer fees for you. Zero out-of-pocket costs. None.
This part always seems to raise a red flag for people because we all know that nothing is truly free and that no lawyer in their right mind would devote endless hours to a case with the expectation of nothing in return.
Raising a questioning eyebrow at this scenario is valid. But once you understand why there’s no out-of-pocket cost to you, it all makes sense.
When the federal government passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act, one of the main concerns was balancing the power disparity between corporate interests and the consumers whose data is pilfered for profit. The legislators recognized that just giving consumers the right to sue these multi-billion dollar entities wouldn’t solve the erroneous reporting problem. After all, if you had to pay thousands of dollars in lawyer costs and fees to correct the errors, you might be left in an even worse financial position ultimately.
To balance this and ensure the dispute and repair system is just, the FCRA gives you the right to sue for tenant screening errors and makes the company that reported the error pay your legal costs. Brilliant!
The lawyers who talk to you, piece together your story, and evaluate your situation know through experience which cases require lawsuits and which are likely to win compensation. If we take your case, we think we have a great chance at success. If we’re right, we get paid by the company we sued. If we’re wrong, we don’t get paid. In balance, it’s a very good system that protects the people who need it the most- consumers!
Trust Our Attorneys - We Handle Tenant Screening Report Errors
With over seventy-five years of combined practice experience, the tenant screening error lawyers at Consumer Attorneys work hard every single day to be worthy of your trust. We put in the time as litigators, continuously evolving our knowledge of the laws, the industry, and the clients who rely on us.
And when our lawyers are not in the office or the courtroom, we’re working with consumer-based non-profits to advance consumer rights from the ground up. We care about the issues that impact you and put the best of ourselves into every case.
When tenant screening errors derail your rental application and disrupt your life, trust our lawyers to get you back to good. It’s why we’re here.
Contact Us When You Need a Tenant Screening Report Error Attorney
With no out-of-pocket cost to you, there is nothing to lose in discussing your tenant background reporting error with one of our skilled consumer protection lawyers.
From coast to coast, we’re always right where you need us to be.
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