In a landmark civil rights decision (Connecticut Fair Housing Center, et al. v. CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, LLC, March 25, 2019), the Connecticut federal District Court established for the first time that consumer reporting agencies must comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) when conducting tenant screening services for landlords.
Since automated decisions by third-party screening companies are rapidly becoming the norm, this ruling has significant implications for landlords, management companies, and renters.
The case was filed by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the National Housing Law Project after CoreLogic’s tenant screening product, CrimSAFE, disqualified a disabled Latino man with no criminal convictions from moving in with his mother.
CrimSAFE provides landlords with an “accept or decline” decision based on CoreLogic’s assessment of an applicant’s criminal record. The lawsuit alleged that CrimSAFE discriminates on the basis of race, national origin, and disability.
Facts of the Case
- In 2016, Carmen Arroyo submitted a rental application to move her son, Mikhail, out of a nursing home and into her apartment.
- Mikhail was in the nursing home recovering from an accident that left him unable to walk, talk, or care for himself.
- He was rejected because CrimSAFE determined he had a “disqualifying criminal record.”
- CoreLogic failed to provide the landlord with any documents or explanation of their determination and unlawfully refused to provide Ms. Arroyo with copies of the background report.
- As a result of the denial, Mikhail had to remain in the nursing home for more than a year longer than necessary.
- Ms. Arroyo later learned that her son’s only criminal record was a charge – from prior to his accident, and later dropped – for shoplifting, an infraction below the level of a misdemeanor.
- CoreLogic claimed that the case should be dismissed because fair housing laws did not apply to its services.
Ruling – The Court rejected CoreLogic’s claim and concluded that CoreLogic “held itself out as a company with the knowledge and ingenuity to screen housing applicants by interpreting criminal records and specifically advertised its ability to improve ‘Fair Housing compliance.’”
- The Court further held that because companies like CoreLogic essentially make rental admission decisions for landlords that use their services, they must make those decisions in accordance with fair housing requirements.
- The Court found CoreLogic’s file disclosure policies had a “sufficiently close nexus to housing availability” for the FHA to apply.
- The Court held that consumer reporting agencies have a duty under the FHA not to discriminate in violation of the FHA in carrying out tenant screening activities, including a duty to make reasonable accommodations in their policies and practices that disadvantage persons with disabilities.
- In 2016, HUD provided guidance indicating that excluding rental applicants due to criminal records has a disparate impact for Latinos and African Americans.
- To avoid this type of discrimination, an “individualized review” should be conducted in order to determine if the affected individual poses a genuine and ongoing threat to persons or property.
- CoreLogic did not conduct an individualized review of Mr. Arroyo’s suitability for tenancy before it rejected him, nor did it offer the opportunity for such an assessment. CoreLogic also prevented the landlord from doing so by withholding information about the underlying criminal history.
- An individualized review would have shown that Mr. Arroyo posed no threat because he had not been convicted of a crime and was physically incapable of posing a danger to anyone.
While using third-party services to check criminal history may be fine, landlords should not rely on those services to make the final leasing decision. Landlords should insist that the third party service provide details on any criminal records discovered so that an assessment may be made as to whether the applicant is or is not suitable for occupancy. Landlords should also be certain to have a process in place whereby anyone rejected due to a criminal record has the opportunity to request and have an individualized assessment.