Automated Tenants Background Checks

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Automated Tenants Background Checks
Short Title Faulty Tenants Screening Companies Freeze-Out Renters
Location United States
Date May 2020

Solove Harm Exclusion, Distortion, Increased Accessibility, Aggregation
Information Identifying, Contact, History, Professional, Criminal, Public Life, Behavioral, Location
Threat Actors Landlords, Tenant screening companies

Affected People applying for rent
High Risk Groups
Tangible Harms Lost Opportunity, Financial Cost

9 out of 10 landlords across the United States use background screening on the tenants. However, these checkups often are done in a very careless manner what might mean unfortunate and unfair results for a renter.


The tenant screening industry is now valued at $1 billion. 90% of landlords in the United States say they run background checks on all applicants. However, renters dispute fewer than 1 percent of reports and it’s impossible to know the actual error rate because tenants may not always know the background screening is done. This is a clear example of Exclusion. The background check happens so fast that the prospective renter might not know why they were turned down.

According to some estimations, about 2000 companies offer a background screening service. Such development of the industry has happened thanks to the easy access to the troves of data. Tenant screeners don’t have to register with any government agency. Increased Accessibility.

The screeners usually look for negative information from criminal databases, trying to combine as much data as possible Aggregation. There are known cases when the algorithm would look for information even in states where the individual who is being checked had never been, or pulling in records for people whose middle names, races, and dates of birth don’t match their own. Some algorithms create reports based on searches with partial names or incomplete dates of birth.

Such careless data aggregation leads to an especially alarming fact that such scanning algorithms often produce flawed tenant screening reports. People often have been wrongly labeled as a criminal by tenant screening companies. This can be seen as Distortion.

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