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Backward Background Checks: How Automated Screening Systems Can Stand Between You And Your New Home


For many years, a background check has been a relatively standard part of an apartment or home rental application. The landlord or property management company would look up your information in a database and check to see if you have had any legal issues in your past. They would then be able to use their own best judgment to decide whether or not you would be a suitable tenant for their property.

Now, however, that process is beginning to change. More and more property owners are foregoing manual checks and database lookups in favor of automated background checks. These automated screening systems aim to eliminate the need for human judgment calls. Instead of providing the landlord with a detailed history of your past, many automated systems simply return a number which symbolizes the risk associated with renting to you. If your score is too low, you won't get the apartment - it is as simple as that.

However, by simplifying an individual's entire background into one singular rating, automated screening systems remove any trace of nuance from the process. With a manual background check, your marijuana possession charge from your sophomore year of college could easily be explained to an understanding landlord. However, an automated system may see that charge and discard your application into the "high risk" pile without ever allowing you a chance to explain the situation.

In addition to the loss of context and nuance, automated systems can sometimes unwittingly discriminate against potential tenants based on their race. Since the US criminal justice system hasĀ shown bias against persons of color, any system which relies solely on data from such a source is also bound to also show elements of bias and discrimination.

If you are worried about the impact that automated background checks may have on your ability to find housing, Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake is here to help. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys can work with you to clear up your criminal record - or even avoid having anything placed on your record in the first place. Contact us today at (410) 927-5137 to learn more about how we can assist you.