Leasing apartments is a tricky business. It’s the job of a leasing professional to build a relationship with a prospective resident, get to know their needs, and to make them feel welcome in your community. Then comes the application and screening process, where the whole dance can go terribly wrong.
I began my career leasing apartments. As a young person, with limited experience of the world, I loved meeting new people and hearing their stories… new jobs, marriages, or just a new neighborhood to explore. It was my job to be friendly and helpful—until their screening results came back. The wonderful rapport we’d created was tough to maintain as their stories became about the rental collection that wasn’t theirs or the criminal record that wasn’t their fault.
Nearly two decades later, I still remember a woman who was denied due to bad credit. She’d been very quiet and kind during the leasing process, and she had the look of someone who had been through a lot. When I delivered the news that her application was denied due to credit, she explained that she’d been a victim of identity theft. Her credit had been ruined without her knowledge and she was working to sort through the mess. I felt certain she was telling the truth and wanted to assist. To be honest, if I’d been given the tools to accept her application, I certainly would have done so—putting my company and myself at risk for a Fair Housing claim. What you do for one, you must do for all…
Because of my limited user rights and the strict business practices we followed, my only route was to escalate her application to my busy regional manager, something I tried hard to avoid. The applicant was asked to produce a police report documenting the identity theft. In the end, she filed the report and we accepted her application, on the condition that she paid an additional deposit. The entire process was well documented, and a rare occurrence, so we knew we’d taken steps to defend our decision-making.
Use of smart screening tools can enforce good business practices, remove the emotion, and prevent Fair Housing claims:
- Remove access to detailed credit and criminal information for all but your most trusted staff. Your site staff doesn’t need access to credit reports. By removing access to this sensitive data, you remove the temptation to become “credit counselor” to the applicant. The best screening tools will allow you to permission access by role or by user.
- Limit overrides—through both user rights and in your business practices. Smart screening tools allow you to limit access to override capabilities through user permissions. Counsel your staff on the importance of limiting override requests to only those that can prove a disqualifying criteria has been resolved (e.g. they paid their rental collection). Making it difficult to override a screening result will prevent abuse.
- Automate Conditional Approvals. Many screening tools leave the rules too loose and allow the site staff to choose from multiple options when an applicant is conditionally approved. Determine these policies in advance and enforce them through your screening settings.
- Educate your teams—both on your criteria for approval and on Fair Housing Guidelines. Make your screening standards clear and make it understood why overrides must be rare.
All in all, choosing the right screening provider is crucial in removing the risk of emotional decision-makers (like me). Choose an applicant-screening provider that can accommodate your specific criteria and automate your decisions, leaving nothing to interpretation.