ALERT: In the following Press Release the Attorney General just forced a landlord to pay $23,000 to resolve allegations that they discriminated against a 59-year-old man due to his mental disability and receipt of rental assistance, AND failed to provide notice to prospective tenants after denying rental applications because of poor credit.
The reason I am publishing this is because the AG is trying to say that not giving an adverse action letter when you deny housing because of poor credit is a violation of 93A. This is new and it is super aggressive and dangerous and it doesn’t matter that probably it’s not even accurate and actionable under 93A because the prospective tenant did not suffer any real injury from the landlord not sending those letters to allow the tenant to check for illegitimate entries. They might have been injured (if there have been illegitimate entries in their credit report) but they may not have been injured if the credit report was essentially correct and not sending that letter would have made no difference. To say that each instance the landlord does not send an adverse action letter is automatically 93A is highly speculative. It is also unfair and deceptive. But unfair and deceptive methods of pushing people around seem to be the way Martha Coakley operates so nothing surprises me anymore. It looks to me she has no respect for the law yet she wants to be elected Governor. And as you can see it pays to twist the law anyway you want. They squeezed $23,000, didn’t they?
It’s cumbersome to send those letters to each tenant who applies and gets denied for poor credit. That’s why probably most landlords don’t do it.
This is not legal advice but it seems that one way to avoid having to send these “Adverse Action” letters is by having the tenant pull their own credit at https://connect.experian.com (just for the record, I don’t get paid for recommending them) where the tenant pays to Experian (not to us) $14.95 to get their credit and then they share it with us. That way no adverse action letter is required because the tenant can keep their credit report and certainly has the opportunity to fix any inaccurate information in it. Landlords in MA are not allowed to charge for a credit report which law makes no sense considering that landlords are not allowed to do it but realtors looking for tenants are allowed to charge to pull the credit report. I get over 30 applications a month. If I paid for all of them that’s easily $700-800 a month. Considering that most people lie on their applications or do multiple applications with no intention of renting from each place they apply to, you might as well throw your money in the toilet so the law is pretty anti-landlord forcing us to eat that cost.
Another option (which is what I do) is to tell all the prospective tenants that they can get their free credit report once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. It’s free once a year so there is no issue there. Most prospective tenants don’t know about this or don’t bother to do it each year. Once they get it they can email it to us.
For Immediate Release – June 17, 2014
Western Massachusetts Landlords Agree to Pay $23,000 to Resolve Housing Discrimination Claims, Credit Reporting Violations
Settlement Provides Victim with Restitution and Future Rental Opportunity; Requires Landlords to Implement New Credit Screening Policy
GREENFIELD – Two Western Massachusetts property owners have agreed to pay $23,000 to resolve allegations that they discriminated against a 59-year-old man due to his mental disability and receipt of rental assistance, and failed to provide notice to prospective tenants after denying rental applications because of poor credit, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
According to the complaint, filed with the consent judgment in Franklin Superior Court, Adam Zaykoski and Jessalyn Zaykoski, of Gill, allegedly refused to rent to a prospective tenant because of his disability, and because he received a rental assistance subsidy from the Mental Health Association (MHA). In addition, the Zaykoskis allegedly violated consumer protection laws by failing to provide the prospective tenant, as well as other applicants, with an “adverse action notice” that would have alerted them to the fact that their rental applications were denied because of poor credit histories.
“Equal and fair access to housing is a right of all residents of the Commonwealth,” AG Coakley said. “Massachusetts residents must be provided with proper notice about the use of their credit histories in housing decisions so that they can make sure that landlords base their decisions on reports that are accurate.”
The MHA is an organization that provides residential and support services to enhance the quality of life for individuals challenged with mental impairments. As part of the MHA rental assistance program, MHA signs the lease on behalf of the subsidy recipient who in return pays a reduced rental payment each month to the MHA.
Under the terms of the consent judgment, the Zaykoskis, who own and manage a four-unit rental in Gill, will pay $16,000 to the prospective tenant, and provide him with notice the first time any one-bedroom or studio apartment becomes available in their building. The Zaykoskis will also create and implement a credit screening policy that will require them to send adverse action notices to any prospective tenant who is denied an apartment due to credit history, and require them to use an alternative process for determining whether a tenant who receives public assistance has the ability to pay rent. Additionally, the Zaykoskis will pay $5,000 to the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center and $2,000 to the Commonwealth, and at least one of them must attend training on federal and Massachusetts fair housing laws.
Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against housing applicants because they receive public assistance or because of a disability. It is also a violation of the Consumer Protection Law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act to fail to provide adverse action notices to prospective tenants whose rental applications are denied because of credit histories. Consumers must be provided with notice of negative decisions based on credit histories so that they have the opportunity to correct inaccurate or incorrect information.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Michelle Leung and Ann Lynch of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Richard Steward of the Investigations Division.