Photo of a woman holding up her apartment application, with a red stamp that says "DENIED."

Feds seek input from low-income renters denied by background checks

Photo of a woman holding up her apartment application, with a red stamp that says "DENIED."

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) want to hear from low-income renters who have been denied apartments because of background checks. 

The agencies are drafting regulations to clamp down on abusive and discriminatory screening practices that make it harder for low-income renters to find a home. Although landlords, corporate investors, and property management companies typically provide the most comments, the agencies also want to have the perspective of low-income renters looking for housing. has developed a comment portal to help low-income renters tell the FTC and CFPB how they have been harmed by tenant screening. The portal guides renters through the comment process and will submit the renter’s comments directly to the site for federal regulations. 

Low-income renters are often unfairly denied an apartment because of mistakes in credit, criminal, and eviction record checks. Some companies that do background checks use algorithms that have been shown to discriminate against Black and Latino renters, as well as those with criminal histories.

The deadline to submit comments is May 30, 2023. Renters can attach their names to their comments or submit their stories anonymously through the portal. 

Tenant comments can be as short or long as needed to tell their stories. Federal officials must review and publish all comments submitted, so this is a chance for low-income renters to have their voices heard.

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More states and cities adopt rights for renters in eviction court

More states are providing a civil right-to-counsel for low-income renters who find themselves in eviction courts.

While almost all landlords show up to court with attorneys, few low-income renters have legal representation. When renters show up with their own lawyers, they are far less likely to lose their homes.

According to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington have enacted right-to-counsel legislation for low-income renters facing eviction in 2021. Since 2017, 15 cities have adopted right-to-counsel laws.

Renters living in these places are guaranteed legal representation when facing eviction. Nationwide, only 3% of tenants have legal representation in eviction court, compared with 81% of landlords.

To find out if you live in a place where renters facing eviction have a right to counsel, you can check out NCCRC’s interactive national map

Low-income renters face difficulties getting legal aid

As more states and cities adopt a right-to-counsel in housing court, low-income renters may still find it hard to get legal representation. According to a recent Bloomberg News article, legal aid offices in these jurisdictions are struggling to recruit enough attorneys to help all those facing eviction.

In New York City, in 2017 the first jurisdiction to adopt right-to-counsel, the Legal Aid Society estimates it can only serve about a third of tenants that need help right now. There were over

100,000 evictions filed there, with only 489 attorneys available to assist tenants.

When caseloads are smaller and more tenants get legal help, outcomes are much better. In Washington state, within six months of enacting a right-to-counsel half of represented tenants were able to stay in their homes. Before the pandemic, the state had an average of 17,000 to 20,000 eviction cases a year, far below the volume in New York.

Recruiting Legal Aid attorneys can be hard because they earn less than public defenders, and far less than lawyers at private firms. In 2019, a first-year lawyer at a private firm could earn three times more than a Legal Aid attorney in California. 

At the same time, limited program budgets mean Legal Aid offices are often understaffed. This leaves attorneys with huge caseloads. This is not an attractive situation for a young lawyer just starting out, and it means less time to help each client facing eviction.

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