- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Targets Companies Selling Pre-qualification Software That Discriminates Against Prospective Tenants
BOSTON — As part of her office’s ongoing efforts against illegal tenant-screening practices, Attorney General Maura Healey announced agreements with two companies following claims of marketing and selling “pre-qualification software” to property managers and landlords in Massachusetts that facilitated discrimination against certain tenants.
The assurances of discontinuance, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, allege that Buildium, LLC, and Tenant Turner, Inc., which provide web-based property management services, falsely marketed and sold the software as providing “fair housing-compliant” tenant screening for landlords, despite the fact that it explicitly offered the option for landlords to unlawfully exclude recipients of government housing vouchers as well as tenants with certain felony convictions from consideration as tenants.
“Public rental assistance programs are critical to the economic security of the most vulnerable residents in Massachusetts, yet source of income discrimination continues to be a pervasive practice amongst housing providers, creating a major barrier in the search for a safe and affordable place to live,” said AG Healey. “This software was designed to unlawfully exclude certain prospective tenants from consideration, and my office will take action to stop companies like these from perpetuating inequality and harming our communities.”
Investigations into Buildium and Tenant Turner began after a referral from the Cambridge Human Rights Commission, which received a complaint from a property management company that had inadvertently selected an option in the software to automatically disqualify all tenants who received government subsidies, and later discovered this error after hearing from a prospective tenant who was denied a showing due to her housing voucher. The AG’s investigation discovered that the software provided all its property manager customers with the option to exclude recipients of government housing vouchers, after which prospective tenants received an automated message from the software stating that they were disqualified. The AG’s Office also found that the software also had a toggle button function which operated to disqualify all tenants who were convicted of felony crimes within a certain time period.
Under the terms of the settlement, Buildium and Tenant Turner will pay a total of $100,000 to the Commonwealth. The companies are also prohibited from offering any features in the tenant pre-qualification software that automatically disqualify or “auto-archive” prospective tenants on the basis of receipt of public assistance or criminal convictions; that allow housing providers to identify whether prospective tenants receive housing vouchers; or that automatically generate and send statements of disqualification on the basis of criminal history, or statements indicating preference on the basis of receipt of public assistance. The companies must also adopt new fair housing compliant policies. The toggle button which automatically disqualified tenants who receive government housing vouchers has already been disabled on the software.
AG Healey also announced that this resolution is part of a broader investigation into the tenant screening and background check industry. Many tenant screening companies use algorithms to collect and process criminal history, financial, and other information about tenants from multiple sources to evaluate potential tenants. These tools may disproportionately impact Black, brown, low-income, and other protected applicants for rental housing in Massachusetts. The AG’s Office will continue to investigate this industry to determine whether certain companies’ algorithms and other practices violate the state’s consumer protection or civil rights laws.
These cases are part of the AG’s Office’s continued work to address housing discrimination that impacts Massachusetts residents. Earlier this month, AG Healey announced resolutions in four fair housing cases where prospected tenants were refused housing because of their receipt of public assistance.
If you believe you have been a victim of illegal and discriminatory tenant screening practices, or would like to report a civil rights violation to the Attorney General’s Office can file a civil rights complaint online or call 617-963-2917 or call 617-963-2917.
The case resolved today was handled by Assistant Attorney General Trini Gao, of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, with assistance from Division Chief Abigail Taylor and Investigator Edward Cherubin.