Being denied housing due to something in your tenant screening report can be discouraging. But there are steps you can take to turn that “No” into a “Yes.” At the Housing Justice Center we assist many tenants with this issue through our Renters Reclaim the Record project — call us at 1-800-429-1705 to learn more. In the meantime, here’s some basic information that can also help you succeed in securing a place to call home.

Before you apply

  • You may have to pay an application fee, sometimes known as a screening fee. This money covers the cost of the landlord checking your credit, eviction, and criminal history using a tenant screening report. It’s important to ask the landlord what happens to this money if you do not rent the apartment — is the fee refundable or non-refundable?
  • Learn how the prospective landlord decides to either reject or accept prospective tenants. Get an idea of your chances as an applicant by looking at the landlord’s screening policy — you can usually find their screening policy within the application itself, on the landlord’s website, or by asking the landlord directly. Almost all landlords look at the same information — your past rental history including evictions or rent owed, any criminal record, your credit record, and your income. However, where landlords draw the line within each of those categories varies enormously. Before charging you an application fee, a landlord must tell you what kinds of things will automatically disqualify you.
  • If you are concerned about potential issues your tenant screening report might include, consider ordering a report yourself before applying for housing.
  • If you know there are things on your tenant screening report that a prospective landlord might take issue with, you may want to explain those to the landlord when you first apply.

Learning why you’ve been turned down

  • If the landlord charged you an application fee, they are required by law to tell you the reason for the denial, in writing, within 14 days. They should also provide the name, address, and phone number of the company that provided the report. If the landlord doesn’t provide either of these things, ask for them in writing.
  • In order to turn that rejection around, it’s important to get your hands on your free tenant screening report. When you request a copy of your report within 30 days of being turned down for housing, the copy is free. Landlords order these background reports from tenant screening companies which spell out your past rental history, criminal history, credit record and income in great detail. Sometimes you will be surprised by these reports, either because the information is inaccurate — most often because the report pulled up information for someone with a similar name — or it’s something you didn’t know about or forgot. You have the right to dispute any inaccurate information in your tenant screening report.

What to do once you’ve been denied

  • If you are denied, consider appealing. Most tenants turned down for housing simply move on to the next rental opportunity. However, consider appealing the denial whenever you think it is unjust or there is additional context for your situation that the landlord should know.
  • Explaining your background can make all the difference. The landlord is making their decision based on outcomes listed in the tenant screening report — an eviction, for example, or criminal conviction. What they don’t know is the context behind that particular outcome. The real question is if whatever happened to you in the past determines whether you will be, in the landlord’s eyes, a good tenant in the future. Communicate with the prospective landlord when and if you can justify why what happened in the past has nothing to do with what kind of tenant you will be now.
  • Another reason to obtain your tenant screening report is that you can often make it better. When information on your report is wrong, you have the right to object and have it corrected. Sometimes having a low credit score can result in a denial, but there are often ways to increase your credit score. If you are receiving denials because you owe a previous landlord back rent, entering into a payment agreement with that past landlord can remove that barrier in your application process. In some cases, going to court to get an eviction or a criminal matter expunged from your records will make a difference.
  • If the tenant screening barriers you’re encountering are really serious, there are programs that can help. If you have multiple evictions or serious criminal convictions in your recent history, it can be even harder to find a landlord who will rent to you. But there are programs designed to help in these cases. HousingLink’s Beyond Backgrounds program reduces landlord financial risk when renting to people with criminal, credit and rental history barriers, making it more likely that a landlord will relax their screening criteria and rent to you. In some cases, landlords may be more likely to rent to you if you are working with a social worker on an ongoing basis that they can contact if any issues crop up.
  • As part of our Renters Reclaim the Record project, HJC lawyers help people running up against tenant screening barriers in their search for housing. HJC can assist with any of the steps above. Call us to learn if you qualify at 1-800-429-1705.