Washington background checking agencies are flawed and unenforced

Susan Mason makes no bones about the fact that she served time.

The executive director of What’s Next Washington and member of the FARE Housing Coalition went to prison 14 years ago for 15 months. Despite Mason’s subsequent clean record and steady paycheck, landlords still look askance when she applies for housing in Seattle’s overheated market.

“I don’t even apply with property management companies,” Mason said. “They take your money and tell you ‘yes.’ It’s never a ‘yes.’”

Anybody who has applied for an apartment in recent memory knows the drill. Fill out an application, hand over a cashier’s check, pray to whatever higher power you hold dear that your late payment on an auto loan didn’t push your credit score down too far to raise eyebrows. Feel confident that you have a leg up on millions of Americans because you’ve never seen the inside of a courthouse or jail cell, and your background check makes you look like an adult Pollyanna.

Prepare for the shine to come off that halo.

Background checks used for tenant screenings in the rental housing industry are notoriously inaccurate. They use algorithms to scour public databases for a potential tenant’s credit history and criminal background, but rarely fact check the information. Results are compared to a landlord’s rental criteria, and sometimes it’s just a thumbs up or thumbs down that gets transmitted rather than the actual report.

The outcome hurts both sides of the transaction: Good tenants are routinely denied housing for offenses they did not commit, or that shouldn’t appear on a background check at all. FULL ARTICLE

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