On August 1 2006, many property managers arrived to their offices to conduct business as usual only to find that they have “cut off” from their resident screening services. Managers logged on to their accounts to process rental applications only to discover that they could not longer access the screening information.
In the old days, property managers used to rely on phone calls and limited database searches to screen potential residents. Today, technology enables the searcher to receive instant online results from credit, criminal and courthouse searches. With the advent of these technologies came the potential of abuse. It seemed that data providers were not qualifying property managers properly when seeking to access other people’s sensitive information. Many people’s identities were stolen as a result; in stepped the FTC and the credit bureaus.
The catalyst that brought much of the uproar was the much publicized Choicepoint (one of the largest data dealers in the world) data breach. In 2005, the FTC settled with Choicepoint for $15 million (largest ever by the FTC) because they had released the data of 163,000 people to, Olatunji Oluwatosin, a Nigerian ID thief operating out of a Kinkos in California. Part of the settlement was that Choicepoint, its subsidiary Resident Data and many other residents screening companies were forced to screen their users thoroughly to prove that the person/company is a legitimate entity that has the permissible purpose to access others' credit info for rental decisions. All companies are now required to do an onsite inspection as well.
The results of this settlement means that the screening companies that did not practice due diligence in verifying that their clients were legitimate could no longer provide the credit information to their clients. The most common complaint from property management companies was that when they logged on their account, they were shut off from services. These screening companies are trying to figure out how to quickly qualify and inspect hundreds of thousands of clients. Industry averages for qualifying a person or company to access another’s credit info for rental decisions range from 2-3 man hours while onsite inspections can cost up to $100 using independent inspectors. What becomes obvious is the Herculean task at hand. Screening Companies must now justify to the clients
a) the amount time required to qualify them and
b) the cost of receiving a service that they once received for free.
Most property managers cannot wait when they have a stack of applications to process with no service in the foreseeable future to screen them.
While many screening companies suffer to comply with the settlement, others such as Landlord2Landlord.com© are reaping the rewards. Landlord2landlord.com©, an Atlanta-based outfit has seen its business triple in recent months. Property Managers from all over the country have been requesting their service with urgent resident screening needs. “While many companies were taking shortcuts in qualifying candidates, we were practicing due diligence. Although we lost many customers to cheaper prices, we knew that things would catch up on our competitors.” Ken Lemal, President of Landlord2landlord.com©. In times of great shake-ups in industry, the survivors are usually the ones who had the foresight to identify and prepare for change first. When asked what his company is doing to accommodate the new clients, Lemal confidently replied, “…were not doing too much differently. Our systems have been in place for sometime and our technology is the latest in reliability, deliverability and security. Our main objectives, at the moment, are to continue delivering superior service and expanding our user-friendly interface.” Landlord2landlord.com©, in its advertisings, has been accepting new clients with (100+ units) from other screening companies at half of the original membership price if they can prove they were using another provider.
Many industry analysts have been predicting the shakeup for some time and many see the industry changing even more. The ability for others to transmit and receive another’s sensitive credit info will continue to be regulated and limited. Expect more rules and regulations as the industry copes with those who will commit fraud. Companies, industry and government will wrestle to find an efficient use of personal information while preserving customer control over its use.