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Faulty Tenant Screening

The case: Can an outdated tenant-screening report block your access to housing?

All they wanted was to rent an apartment in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. But Dera Jackson-Daniels, 42, and her husband, Kenneth, 47, were denied a lease. The reason? The couple had been blacklisted in 2004 by a landlord who relied on an incomplete and misleading tenant-screening report.

The report, from First Advantage SafeRent Inc., said that the two were currently parties to a lawsuit filed by the cooperative apartment building where Kenneth had worked as a superintendent. In fact, the building had dropped the case against the couple.

"We felt absolutely horrible. We got turned down for that one apartment, and we knew this was going to follow us around everywhere we tried to rent," Dera Jackson-Daniels says.

They aren't alone.

Attorneys from AARP and the firms Fishman & Neill and Locks represented 35,000 people inaccurately identified in First Advantage reports about landlord lawsuits. The class-action suit was settled in March.

Under terms of the settlement, each potential renter will receive up to $100, an amount recoverable under federal fair credit laws, paid from a $1.9 million settlement fund. Checks began arriving in July. And First Advantage has agreed to change its business practices in New York.

Today, Dera Jackson-Daniels, a manager at the American Museum of Natural History, and her husband are living with family in an apartment in Harlem. She says she plans eventually to try to rent again. "I hope this never comes to haunt me in the future. It's terribly unfair, and it happens to way too many people."

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