Some New Orleans property owners are being accused of discriminatory background screening tactics for prospective tenants. If the allegations prove true, the ramifications could affect how property owners are policed when requesting and collecting background checks. A report released by the New Orleans Greater Fair Housing Action Center, a civil rights non-profit group, apparently shows that landlords discriminated against African American renters by selectively using criminal background checks. The NOGFHAC says it used a “mystery shopper” scenario to test 50 housing providers. It dispatched white and black testers with identical income levels, career paths, families and criminal backgrounds to apply for apartments, but NOGFHAC says landlords skewed the results to benefit white testers and disqualify black testers in 42% of cases.

The New Orleans Greater Fair Housing Action Center claims that “housing agents told white testers that the background check policy only applied to felonies while black testers were told that certain misdemeanors could disqualify them from consideration.”

If these examples are true, it flies in the face of the good that background checks can do for both property owners and other tenants living in the building/complex. From credit checks to criminal background reports, Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) like Active Screening are skilled at researching, collecting and providing you the right information you need to make an educated tenant decision. When you work with a nationally-accredited screening agency like Active Screening you are getting a team of experts who understand and comply with the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, Fair Housing Act Amendments Act of 1988 and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin. The Supreme Court added to that law earlier this year when it ruled that the act prohibits not only intentional discrimination but structural discrimination, too.

In general, fair access to housing is apparently a huge issue in New Orleans, and specifically, disproportionately affects African Americans because they have a higher criminal conviction rate compared to other races and ethnicities. Black people make up 32 percent of the state’s population yet they account for 66 percent of the prison population. The NOGFHAC says it wanted to examine access to fair housing by conducting this investigation and determine if background checks were being illegally used to create a housing barrier for blacks.

The NOGFHAC says it wants four changes to come as a result of this investigation, as reported in

• The New Orleans City Council should pass an ordinance requiring landlords who deny someone an apartment based on their criminal background to provide a written reason of the denial, a copy of the background check policy, a summary of the tenants rights and the name, address and phone number of the company that conducted the background check.

• The public Housing Authority of New Orleans should better apply its 2013 policy calling for an end to automatic denials of housing based on criminal convictions.

• HANO should require that operators of federally funded housing developments have uniform background check policies. Currently, each operator uses its own background policy and screening criteria.

• The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides most of the money for subsidized housing, should provide housing agencies such as HANO with clear guidance on how to conduct criminal background checks. They are now given broad discretion in setting their own background check policy.

Tenant screening is important to us at Active Screening and we’ve crafted a screening experience that can be customized to your property management needs. But we also believe in educating property managers on the proper use of background checks. Tenant screening is crucial to keeping housing environments safe and we don’t want improper screening tactics to put the entire practice in jeopardy. Click here to read our can’t miss advice on how to safely secure a terrific tenant and stay on the right side of the law.

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