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Questions About Tenant Background Checks? New Guidance Can Help

If you’re looking for a new place to live — or about to renew your lease — a landlord may run a tenant background check to decide whether to rent to you or not. The tenant background check process can be confusing, and renters often don’t know how the process works or what to do if something goes wrong. The FTC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and Department of Justice have put out a new publication to help renters navigate the screening process.

Tenant background checks are usually compiled by tenant background check companies that put together a report on you and the people you live with. The tenant background check report — sometimes called a resident or tenant screening report — may have information about whether you pay your bills, if you’ve been evicted or have a criminal record, and more. But it’s often hard for you to know exactly what’s in your report before you apply and how a landlord might be using it. According to a CFPB study, many renters pay for this kind of background check but they don’t get to see the reports that landlords use, which may include mistakes like information that's outdated, misleading, or that belongs to someone else. 

The new publication tells you how tenant background checks work, what kinds of background information a landlord might receive about you, how to respond if you think that information is wrong, and your rights under federal laws — including laws related to tenant background checks and those that outlaw discrimination. For example, if the landlord makes a negative decision about your application because of your tenant background check report, you have the right to request a free copy of your report from the tenant background check company. You also have the right to dispute mistakes on your tenant background check report. Because the tenant screening process can be confusing, the FTC has another new article that goes into more detail about how to deal with mistakes in your tenant background check report.

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