When Zombie Data Costs You a Home
Everything was already packed into boxes, and she just had to go pick up the keys. Rafaela Aldaco had been struggling financially for years, raising two kids on her own, and now she was thrilled to have been accepted into a nonprofit transitional housing program in the suburbs of Chicago geared toward single moms in danger of homelessness. The program would both help her pay her rent at a new place and pay back old debts—a lifeline.
When she showed up at the apartment, though, she was told there was a problem. A tenant-screening report had surfaced something she’d rather forget, an altercation with her then-boyfriend when she was 18. At the time, she had taken five days of community service and six months of probation in exchange for having her record dismissed. But there it was on her Rentgrow screening report, almost 20 years later. She was turned away from the apartment, and the program. She drove her boxes to a storage facility.
“She was all excited about it,” Aldaco’s friend from her church’s Bible study group, Clementine Frazier, told lawyers in the court case Aldaco later filed against Rentgrow, “and then when it didn’t happen, she was devastated. Because she had nowhere to go.”
Aldaco lost her 2016 case against Rentgrow in 2018, when a federal judge in the Northern District of Illinois ruled that her guilty plea was essentially the same thing as a conviction under federal law and therefore reportable in a background check. The appellate court agreed.
Rentgrow declined to comment on any litigation, as did the other screening companies mentioned in this article, RealPage and its subsidiary On-Site, but an industry trade group that represents those companies provided a statement to The Markup.
“Background check companies want to provide accurate criminal history information not just because the law requires it, but because it’s the right thing to do,” said Eric Ellman, senior vice president of public policy and legal affairs of the Consumer Data Industry Association. “Our members report facts as they are provided by courthouses across the country, and our members do not interpret that information for their landlord clients. Our members do not report sealed or expunged information if they know that the record is sealed or expunged, and our background check members regularly update court record information from courts across the U.S.”