Every time you rent a place to live, there’s a process. The application, deposit and background check.
What happens when your background check isn’t really you? You’re denied housing and falsely labeled a criminal?
It happened to Terence Walker.
The bedridden veteran, who’s struggling with diabetes and whose left leg will be amputated, didn’t expect the fight when he had plans to move his family into a Dallas-area apartment in March. As standard procedure, the husband and father of two filled out a housing application at the Vistas on the Park about 25 miles north of downtown.
Shortly after, Walker received an urgent email from management.
“Our system is showing you have a criminal background,” the email read.
The thing is, he has no criminal history.
“Obviously, I was livid,” he said.
Like some Houston-area apartment complexes, Vistas on the Park uses RealPage, Inc. to screen potential applicants for housing.
“It’s one thing I learned being in the military: You never give up, you never surrender and you always fight back,” Walker said.
Walker said there were a number of problems in his report, including the wrong name, race and date of birth.
“Wrong everything,” he said.
Similar complaints are on record with the Better Business Bureau. In May 2015 the BBB discovered a pattern of complaints against the company about its reporting of inaccurate background checks.
“On May 26, 2015, BBB identified a pattern of complaints concerning RealPage reporting inaccurate criminal background checks during housing application processes. RealPage provided a response as to the steps they are taking to eliminate this pattern. After 12 months of monitoring complaints, on August 11, 2015, BBB closed this inquiry as RealPage failed to eliminate this pattern of complaints. BBB determined that the step(s) RealPage implemented did not eliminate the underlying cause of the patter of complaints. BBB saw an increase in the number of complaints alleging false criminal background checks being reported by RealPage. As of September 2, 2016, RealPage has notified BBB that they intend to implement further steps in an effort to eliminate these types of complaints.”
Company officials at RealPage declined an interview in person. But, on the phone a spokesperson disagreed with the BBB’s conclusion.
“99.2 percent of all criminal screens performed by LeasingDesk are accurate. Thus the number of disputes we receive is extremely low compared to the millions of screens we perform,” said RealPage spokesperson Andrea Massey.
There’s no way for us to verify that percentage is true because RealPage isn’t required to report their inaccuracy to anyone.
Massey also says, “…information provided by courts varies widely jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction, many courts provide very limited identifying information about criminal offenders (e.g., partial names and dates of birth, no social security or driver’s license numbers). The trend is that courts are providing less and less such information.”
In the end, RealPage cleared Walker’s inaccurate background check two days after he filed an official dispute with the Better Business Bureau. If he would have waited, Vistas on the Park could have accepted his application.
Walker now lives with his wife and two children in a single-story brick home about 10 minutes away from the complex.
As for how often this happens, there aren’t hard numbers. But I do know that this happened to me when I first moved to Houston which is what caused me to start this investigation.
KHOU 11 News also requested complaints filed with the Attorney General of Texas. Their office supplied 14 complaints alleging RealPage provided inaccurate background reports.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you have a common name, you are more prone to inaccuracies because there are more people sharing your name. With courts withholding more information from companies that perform background checks, the process is becoming more difficult.
You can report the problem to the BBB and Attorney General of Texas.
You can also report it to a government agency you may not know about. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the only government agency that takes your complaints that reports them annually to Congress.
KHOU 11 News has been reading to your Facebook comments and a lot of people want to know how your voice can be heard to stop an inaccurate background check from affecting your life.
We did some digging online and it turns out many people may have been complaining to the wrong agency.
Page 55 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act states the following:
"Annual report. The Bureau shall submit to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives in an annual report regarding information gathered by the Bureau under this subsection."
We reached out to a staffer with the Financial Services Committee, he says the bureau is the CFPB. If you aren’t filing complaints with the CFPB they aren’t reaching lawmakers with the authority to inspire real changes.
Right now, we’re questioning the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission to find out who’s monitoring background check company’s accuracy.
Providing an inaccurate background check isn’t illegal, but you do have rights as a consumer. Your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act are listed here.
Josh Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.