Landlords have a lot invested in their property. It’s understandable that they want to rent to responsible, trustworthy tenants. Naturally, they have a system for checking tenants before making the decision to rent or not. Potential tenants, in turn, expect that the information landlords receive about them is accurate. But what happens if it isn’t?
RealPage, Inc., a Texas-based real estate tech and data company, agreed to settle a complaint about just that. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed charges in the Northern District of Texas on behalf of potential renters who had been erroneously associated with criminal records and denied access to property based on reports provided by RealPage. The $3 million settlement was the largest civil penalty ever assessed against this type of business, making it a landmark case with implications for all landlords and tenants moving forward.
The FTC charged that RealPage’s filtering system from approximately January 2012 until September 2017 allowed for results that were too broad, leading to some applicants being matched with criminal records in error. A potential tenant’s last name was the only criteria that were required to match, while the first name, middle initial, and birth date did not have to match exactly. This led to all sorts of problems for would-be renters.
One such unlucky potential tenant was Anthony Jones, born on October 15, 1967. He was matched with Antonio Jones, Antony Jones, or Antoinette Jones, even with different birth dates. All that their system required in order to call it a match was “Jones,” a common last name.
The complaint alleged that some renters could have been denied access to housing based on this flawed information. RealPage denied the allegations but chose to settle the complaint, stating that the distraction and the cost of going to court were too high. The company believed it was being singled out for an issue that has been evident in their industry for years: not having critical information like social security numbers or driver’s license numbers available to narrow their searches. RealPage also stated that all the allegations took place before the company introduced improved matching technology in September 2017.
RealPage not only had to pay the $3 million settlement; they had to agree to maintain “reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the information it includes about individuals in its consumer reports.” They also had to agree to ongoing reporting and compliance requirements in order to prevent the company from reverting to patterns of behavior that might lead to similar problems in the future.
A case like this can affect the general population in many ways. Background checks are routinely run for obtaining credit or even getting a job. It is important that your information is correct, but also that you are being correctly identified by the company running the report. You can help protect yourself in a few ways:
As consumers, we have an obligation to provide accurate data to anyone considering lending us credit or property, including rental property. In turn, companies processing that information for lenders have a duty to assure the accuracy of the reports generated from our personal data. The 2018 case of FTC vs. RealPage has hopefully made inroads to making this the norm.
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