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If you’re on the hunt for a new house or apartment, you can expect most landlords and management companies to request a tenant screening report as part of the application process.
Sadly, many landlords are known to go through questionable third-party companies when they engage in the background check process.
As such, many of these reports contain false, inaccurate, or misleading information about potential tenants. Landlords can unfairly deny tenants a lease when these reports are taken for face value.
Federal and state laws require landlords to follow strict procedures when conducting credit checks and consumer reports.
If you’ve been denied a home due to false information or discrimination, you may be able to file a lawsuit and hold the landlord responsible for their illegal actions.
Contact The Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC, to arrange a free consultation with one of our experienced tenant screening lawyers.
Since 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has been used as a guideline for tenant screening companies and the information they share. Per federal standards, any service that provides consumer reports must adhere to strict rules that ensure all the information they provide is as accurate as possible.
Whenever these companies generate inaccurate reports about an individual, this information may be considered to be a breach of the company’s legal obligations — namely, their duty to engage in due diligence regarding accuracy.
If a tenant screening company shares false information about you, a lawsuit might be the only way to hold them accountable. A successful lawsuit against a tenant screening company can result in financial compensation for any losses you suffered and even punitive damages if a jury makes the necessary findings.
Some of the common damages in a tenant screening report lawsuit include:
Although landlords are allowed to screen tenants, they must do so according to federal, state, and local laws. Whenever these statutes are ignored, a landlord’s actions can result in severe consequences for potential tenants.
Also, landlords must provide underlying data and details about their adverse actions. In most cases, landlords must give potential tenants a report or explain why their application was rejected.
If you’ve suffered losses due to false information in a consumer report, a tenant screening lawyer can help. A tenant screening lawyer specializes in filing lawsuits against illegal rental practices and will work with you each step of the way to prove your case in court.
The law holds landlords to high standards, and a lawsuit may be the best way to protect your rights and recover any losses you may have suffered.
As with any civil action, FCRA lawsuits require specific elements to be met.
Depending on the circumstances, FCRA lawsuits may be filed in federal or state court. When you file a lawsuit against a landlord, credit reporting agency, or third-party service, you’ll have to establish that false information was shared about you, that the report resulted in an FCRA violation, and that you sustained damages.
Some examples of inaccurate or false information that your attorney can use to file a claim include:
Because plaintiffs have the burden of proof in tenant screening claims, you’ll need to gather the necessary evidence to support your claim. FCRA lawsuits require plaintiffs to satisfy proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Key elements you’ll have to provide in an FCRA claim include:
Additionally, some courts allow misleading or “technically accurate” information to be used as the basis for a claim. Should you fall into this category, you’ll still need to prove to the courts that the procedures used by the reporting company were unreasonable.
FCRA violation lawsuits come with a strict statute of limitations.
Federal law allows for a two-year statute of limitations that begins on the day the violation occurred. Unlike other types of lawsuits, the clock starts running regardless of whether the victim knew about the violation.
In some rare exceptions, courts may extend the statute of limitations under a legal doctrine called the “discovery rule.” Depending on your jurisdiction, “discovery rule” provisions allow for a statute of limitations to start only when the victim discovers or becomes aware of the violation, which can considerably extend the time to file a lawsuit.
Some courts only allow the discovery rule when harm is willful or intentional. An experienced tenant screening lawyer can review your case and determine the best action to move forward.
Many times, landlords may use non-financial information to deny housing opportunities to potential tenants. Whenever the following criteria are used in denying a rental, you can file a discrimination lawsuit under the federal Fair Housing Act:
The Fair Housing Act provides provisions that protect any number of individuals from civil rights violations whenever they attempt to rent or buy a home, obtain a mortgage, or engage in housing-related activities.
You can file a discrimination lawsuit when a property owner enforces special terms or conditions or refuses rental based upon a protected category. Landlords often use the information they learn from a tenant screening report as the basis for discrimination and subsequent denial.
Similar to FCRA lawsuits, you’ll need to provide sufficient evidence to validate your claim if you suffered discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
Direct evidence to prove a Fair Housing Act violation can involve elements such as:
In situations where direct evidence is lacking or insufficient, you can also provide the court with circumstantial evidence to support your claim.
Often, witness testimony from a third party may be enough. In general, you’ll need to provide any combination of evidence that can help a jury draw out a reasonable inference that discrimination happened.
Whenever a landlord uses the information from a tenant screening report to deny you housing, they are obligated to give an explanation and provide any supporting documents.
Not all adverse actions exist in the form of housing denials. In some cases, landlords can use a tenant screening report to request a higher deposit, ask for additional rent, or enforce discriminatory policies.
Fortunately, your rights are protected under the FCRA and the Fair Housing Act. When you suffer discrimination at the hands of a landlord, you have the right to file a claim and hold them accountable for their illegal behavior.
The Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller specialize in consumer protection and rental discrimination claims. Our team of attorneys has generations of experience and can work with you to protect your consumer and civil rights.
When filing a lawsuit, we provide personalized care for all our clients, and you can expect to work with the same attorney from start to finish, each step of the way.
Contact our office today for a free consultation if you’ve suffered tenant screening discrimination.