Lawmakers Blame Tenant Screening for Lack of Housing

by Chris on July 29, 2019

At a recent city council meeting in Portland, Oregon proponents of rental regulations that bar landlords from rejecting tenants for bad credit or violent criminal history scolded those landlords who objected, accusing them of disseminating misleading information and stoking fears.

Now, Minneapolis lawmakers are considering similar regulations that would, among other things, block landlords from screening based on poor credit or criminal history.

Tenant screening standards are designed for the safety of all tenants, something that Minnesota Multi Housing points out in its Safe and Affordable Neighborhoods Initiative, launched to counter the impending legislation.

Lawmakers cite widespread housing discrimination as justification for taking away landlords’ rights to reject high-risk tenants. Both state and federal laws already protect vulnerable populations from discrimination, and landlords stand to lose by refusing to rent to those protected classes.

These anti-discrimination standards prohibit landlords from considering arrests without convictions or applying a blanket ban on all criminal conduct. Landlords are required to consider factors like the length of time that has passed since the person committed a crime.

But the Portland ordinance and the proposed Minneapolis regulations go a step further by requiring landlords to consider applicants who literally have just completed long prison sentences for violent crime, where there is no opportunity to determine the individual’s risk for recidivism. Even those applying for Section 8 assistance can be rejected for violent crime.

Lawmakers who push these extreme measures are not addressing the fact that a landlord might be liable if a new tenant hurts someone else or could suffer losses in the tens of thousands of dollars if a tenant can’t pay rent or damages the rental property — something mom and pop landlords can’t afford.

By requiring landlords to accept credit scores as low as 500, lawmakers are depriving landlords of the opportunity to turn away unqualified applicants who have shown little or no financial responsibility. The assumption appears to be that every person with low credit or a criminal history is the victim of discrimination without accounting for those individuals who simply are bad tenants, and got there on their own.

It’s not surprising that landlord groups would oppose efforts to increase the liabilities and risks of income loss that could potentially drive small landlords out of business. What is difficult to comprehend is how tenants can embrace such a plan.

There are, after all, only so many vacant rental homes. Why would a tenant who always pays rent on time and stays out of trouble with the law want to lose out on a rental to a late-paying or law-breaking tenant? Why would someone want to feel compelled to move because they fear a new tenant is a threat to their safety? It’s one thing to prevent discrimination. It’s another to reward renters who have not demonstrated personal responsibility.

But the bottom line is that these measures don’t increase supply — the primary reason for a lack of affordable housing.

Experts agree: more renters are staying in the market. A more effective approach to dealing with this increased demand is for localĀ  governments to encourage investment in rental housing to increase supply, and to finance rent subsidies so those who are struggling with low wages or other disadvantages can make ends meet. Driving landlords out of business — or on to greener pastures — can only make matters worse.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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