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'Impossible to find somewhere to rent': Tenants say background checks, application fees, consumer-report inaccuracies and eviction records are holding them back

We want to hear from readers who have stories to share about the effects of increasing costs and a changing economy. If you’d like to share your experience, write to Please include your name and the best way to reach you. A reporter may be in touch.The screening process to get into an apartment can


We want to hear from readers who have stories to share about the effects of increasing costs and a changing economy. If you’d like to share your experience, write to Please include your name and the best way to reach you. A reporter may be in touch.

The screening process to get into an apartment can be cumbersome, costly and rife with inaccuracies, renters said in comments submitted to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the past week.

One commenter, for example, noted that rental-application fees and administrative fees submitted as part of the screening process made it “impossible to find somewhere to rent,” with each application costing at least $50 so the property manager or landlord could perform a background check, credit-score check and eviction check. 

Multiple other commenters said their landlords had performed hard credit checks to screen them, impacting their credit scores or other credit decisions. 

The consumer-focused federal agencies issued a joint request on Feb. 28 for information on any potential issues relating to “background screening practices and their potential effect on people’s ability to obtain rental housing.” That announcement, which came about a month after the White House unveiled broad actions to address tenant protections and rental-affordability issues, asked tenants, landlords, advocacy groups and others to share their thoughts on how criminal and eviction records impact housing decisions, as well as the blowback from any inaccuracies on those reports. 

The agencies were also interested to hear whether consumers felt they knew why they were being rejected from apartments, how landlords or property managers were collecting related fees for applications and screenings, how algorithms and artificial intelligence may contribute to the tenant-screening process, and whether there were any ways to improve the application experience. 

“No one should be shut out of housing because of inaccurate or unfair background screening practices,” Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the Feb. 28 statement announcing the request for information. “We are proud to be part of a whole-of-government effort to ensure fairness and equity in the rental market, and we are looking forward to hearing from the public on this vital issue.”

The comments will “help inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction,” according to the news release.

As of late Monday afternoon, there were at least 60 responses to the government’s request, according to comments submitted to the federal government and posted online. Many of them are anonymous or don’t include full names, the tenant’s city of residence or contact information.

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In one, a commenter who said they work with homeless individuals wrote that even prospective tenants who have assistance to help them cover their rent struggle to find a place to live due to the tenant-screening process, leading the person to use negotiation tactics including “incentives, double deposits” and “risk mitigation” to get individuals housed. Despite those efforts, the person wrote, companies remain “reluctant and unbending.” 

Indeed, a separate comment from a person who identified as a Black woman in Seattle said that because of a past eviction, they were repeatedly turned down from prospective properties even with a rapid rehousing program promising to pay their rent.

“We were homeless for just a little over an entire year because we had an eviction on our credit,” the Seattle commenter wrote. “Every apartment complex states in their ads, usually, that an eviction is an automatic denial. Our only hope was to plea with a home owner. Just because someone is evicted from their home doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to have a home. The regulations surrounding the tenant screening process need a new lens to protect the human welfare of the people.”

A different renter said they had to co-sign on rentals for their adult children, who didn’t have enough of a rental background or credit history to rent themselves, leading the commenter to believe the “screening process is against young adults.” 

A law firm, meanwhile, wrote to the federal government to say it had “represented hundreds of consumers in 2022 in relation to inaccurate background and tenant screening reports,” with faulty information from consumer reporting agencies causing tenants to lose out on housing or become homeless.

The firm attached several lawsuits to its comment — including one from an Arizona public-school teacher who was allegedly denied several apartments after spending $1,800 on nonrefundable application fees, thanks to multiple felony drug charges that were incorrectly added to a consumer report because an individual with the same birth date and first name had committed such crimes. 

On the other hand, some comments submitted to the federal government offer the landlord’s perspective. One commenter said it’s difficult to know which tenants they’re able to trust to “respect the property and pay rent, or at least contact me when they are having financial problems, so we can work things out.” A “paperwork trail,” the commenter said, is a way to address that issue early on by reviewing police and eviction records.

Another commenter, who described themself as managing a “rent-controlled multifamily apartment” in San Francisco, said that through their screening process, they were abiding by their three “fundamental criteria”: that prospective tenants could pay rent; that prospective tenants were not falsely misrepresenting themselves and putting other tenants at risk; and that they as a property manager did “not discriminate by race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, or sexual orientation.”

“It is very costly, cumbersome, and lengthy to evict a tenant because of poor screening,” the commenter wrote, “especially for ‘Mom and Pop’ multifamily rental businesses. Institutions have the scale and capital to absorb such costs as expected losses.”

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People will be able to provide feedback to the government on the tenant-screening process through May 30, according to the page for comment submissions. 

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