Rental Screening Simplified

SoftScreen Blog

Welcome to the SoftScreen Blog, a collection of thoughts, topics, and explanations about the finer points of Rental Screening.

January 4, 2020

For Tenants, Landlords and Realtors®...

Delivering Legally Compliant Rental Screening

OK, so you’re a tenant in search of a rental to call home! Once you locate that perfect place, you’ll most likely need to complete a rental application and provide the landlord, their agent (or both) with a means of screening you for tenancy… if you are working with a Realtor® who has shown you rental properties, your awesome Showing Agent most likely suggested our website! Realtors® understand the importance of having a safe and reliable solution for their client’s needs.

Most landlords, property managers, and Listing Realtors® require a prospective tenant’s credit report, credit score, and, more often than not, criminal background and eviction screening. Thanks to SoftScreen, reporting is secure, private, fast and simple for all concerned. Most importantly it will be legally compliant!

Rental screening and the reports associated with it are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, aka the FCRA. This is the federal law that protects consumers, setting guidelines for the safe and appropriate use of the consumer data on file with CRAs (Consumer Reporting Agencies). This includes not only credit reporting, but also extends to criminal background reports, and reports that contain records of any past evictions.

The FCRA protects all consumers when it comes to our personal data. Information such as credit, payment patterns, debt, and court records are sensitive and should remain private. This personal information is collected and stored by CRAs, and when inquired about by a landlord or real estate professional, can be released and provided by one of several agencies like TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Thankfully, the FCRA requires CRAs to maintain accurate and complete records. It also requires our private data to remain private by imposing specific guidelines for releasing and providing it.

Two of these guidelines are permission and permissible purpose.

SoftScreen gives tenants the ability to order their own reports and receive them. Essentially, tenants provide their own needed permissions when accessing their own information for the purpose of sharing it. And while all consumers are entitled to access their own information, if a tenant is going to share their reports, there must also be a legal, valid reason for doing so. This is known as permissible purpose, a safeguard that prevents others from accessing private information without a real reason. Rental screening is a permissible purpose in accordance with the FCRA.

Reports for rental screening MUST be used for the permissible purpose for which they were intended. Rental Screening! This means they can be shared with anyone who has a real reason for receiving it - A landlord or their agent. Those who need the report for its intended purpose, a decision on the tenancy.

So who can’t receive reports from SoftScreen? Now that we have established who can take delivery of a report - landlords and their agents, let’s discuss who cannot…

While this may be a surprise to many, a Showing Agent representing the tenant cannot be the recipient of a tenant’s consumer reports! This cannot be stressed enough. All reports must only go to the recipients who need them for use in accordance with the intended permissible purpose—Rental Screening. Since a tenant’s showing agent does not make the decision regarding the tenancy, they have no real reason to need the report. Hence, no legal standing to receive the report from SoftScreen, or any other service which provides consumer reports. Additionally, if a tenant’s agent were to receive the report, subsequent redistribution to another, such as a listing broker, listing agent, or landlord, is not permissible. Even brokers with the appropriate permissions to receive reports aren’t authorized to redistribute them to another real estate professional or landlord. In an effort to safeguard privacy, the FCRA limits the flow of consumer data directly and only to those with a permissible purpose. That said, once a tenant is in possession of their own reports, they are free to do as they please with their own information.

For tenants, SoftScreen provides a safe, secure, platform for accessing, receiving, sharing (and re-sharing their consumer reports at no additional charge). Additionally, because the tenant has chosen to initiate the release of their own information, our’s is a soft inquiry which will not impact or hurt credit scores.

For Listing Agents and landlords, SoftScreen provides a safe way to receive a tenant’s consumer reports. Just as a tenant’s agent cannot receive and re-distribute reports, a Listing Agent or a landlord may not re-distribute reports either. SoftScreen handles this, safely and legally by disclosing to the tenant who will be receiving their information. Once disclosure has been provided, reports may be provided to the Listing Agent and the Property Owner, one, the other or both. Now everyone can be on the same page when it comes to decisioning.

For a tenant's Showing Agent, SoftScreen provides a fantastic way to advocate for their client. Our soft inquiry protects credit score. Reports are provided directly to tenants and can be shared safely and legally. Our re-sharable reports can be used over and over again at zero additional cost. A fantastic value when multiple rental applications become needed.