In different parts of the state, there are private reporting companies that supply landlords with information about tenants. These companies collect information about tenants from courts, previous landlords, and other companies, such as credit reporting agencies. The problem is that sometimes the information in these reports is very misleading. It may also be flat out wrong.
If you have ever had an eviction case brought against you and you then try to find a new apartment, you might discover that one of these private companies has a file about you in its computer, and that new landlords do not want to rent to you because they think you are a troublemaker (even though it may have been your landlord who was violating the law).
A landlord may obtain certain types of tenant screening reports without your permission.1 Landlords are also supposed to let tenants know that they are using a tenant screening report or that they are denying you housing based on information in the report.2 But this may not happen. If your application for an apartment is denied, ask the landlord why. Ask the landlord whether she used a tenant screening company and, if so, what the name of the company is.
All reporting companies are required to have a toll-free number so you can call to find out about your report and how to dispute it.3
You have the right to find out from the company what information it is giving out about you and who it gave the information to. You also have the right to add to the file your own statement or explanation of what happened, so that whenever a new landlord checks your file, she will see your explanation about the information in it. For example, if an eviction case was brought against you and it shows up in your file, you can explain that it was because your landlord made an accounting error and claimed that you owed rent when, in fact, you did not.
Once you identify the tenant reporting agency, go to the agency in person or send a letter to request the disclosure of the information in your file. Every reporting company must, upon your request and proper identification, disclose the information in your file. You may be charged a reasonable fee, which cannot be more than $8. If you have been denied housing, you have a right to see and obtain a free copy of your report.4 After you have reviewed your file, ask the agency to verify information you feel is inaccurate or incomplete. You have the right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of the information in your report.
Within 30 days of receiving your request to verify information, the agency must reinvestigate and make corrections to your file.5 If you have documentation that shows the information is wrong, send copies of this documentation to the agency with your request. For example, if you have receipts for rent and the report claims you did not pay, send the agency copies of these receipts (do not send the original receipts). If the agency determines that information in the report is inaccurate or can no longer be verified, the agency must delete this information within three business days.6 If the reinvestigation does not resolve the dispute, you may send a statement explaining your side of the story, and the agency must include it in any report it issues about you.7
If information has been removed from your report or cannot be verified, you may request the reporting company to send the revised report to any person who received your report within the previous six months. The agency must do this within 15 days of your request and cannot charge you a fee for this service.8
1 . G.L. c. 93, §51(a)(3)(v) gives a consumer reporting agency the authority to give a "consumer report" to a person using the information in connection with the rental of residential property. While landlords can obtain what is defined as a "consumer report" without the consumer's permission, landlords cannot obtain what is defined as an "investigate consumer report" without the consumer's permission. See G.L. c. 93, §53. An "investigative consumer report" is a report that includes information about a "person's character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living" obtained through personal interviews. See G.L. c. 93, §50. A "consumer report" is limited to credit information and cannot include specific information listed in the law. See G.L. c. 93, §52. Note: There is also a federal law that regulates consumer reports and provides protections for consumers called the Federal Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. For more information about this law, see Fair Credit Reporting, published by the National Consumer Law Center and available for sale online at: https://shop.consumerlaw.org/index.asp under "Publications for Lawyers."
2 . See 15 U.S.C. §1681m of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (also known as § 615(a) of the Act). For the full statute, go to the Federal Trade Commission's website at: www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcra.htm#615.
3 . G.L. c. 93, §57(c).
4 . G.L. c. 93, §56(b). To obtain a free copy, a consumer must ask for the information within 60 days of being denied housing.
5 . G.L. c. 93, §58(a).
6 . G.L. c. 93, §58(c).
7 . G.L. c. 93, §58(d) and (f).
8 . G.L. c. 93, §58(g). Note: You may request the reporting company to send the revised report to any person who received your report within two years if received for employment purposes.