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Applying for a home? Robots and automation may decide your fate

(BROKERAGE) The next background check you have run may not be in the hands of another human being. Is this automation helpful or harmful?

Man signing application may only be seen by automation

Leasing approval for your next apartment may not reside in the hands of a human being.

Automation has become an integral part of the decision process for landlords when it comes to deciding who to accept as tenants. Screening tools such as ScorePLUS from CoreLogic use a “statistical lease screening model” that calculates a score and determines a potential tenant’s overall risk. CrimCHECK, another product from CoreLogic, can be used by landlords to search a database of more than 80 million booking and incarceration records across 2,000 facilities. This type of software helps landlords and large apartment complexes streamline their processes and reduce manual reviews of leasing applications.

Housing advocates, however, view such automation as more of a problem than a solution. According to advocates when screening tools bypass human “judgment calls”, those decisions fail to take into account critical details and attempt to solve complex choices with a simple pass/fail algorithm. Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, says that nuance is lost when landlords solely rely on automated screening tools and don’t always capture extenuating circumstances around a possible tenant’s record.

Large automated systems often have inaccuracies as well. Monica Webly, the deputy director of litigation at the Legal Action Center, has said that such checks are “notoriously” inaccurate. For example, a record might end up including information from someone with a similar name, leading to a denial in a renting application for a tenant.

“I’ve looked at more criminal records reports than I could count, and I would say that well over half the ones I’ve looked at had some kind of inaccuracy,” Dunns said.

Companies like CoreLogic have faced lawsuits over such inaccuracies. In 2015, a South Carolina man sued the company after he was flagged by a CoreLogic tool as a registered sex offender due to someone with a similar name. While the man was eventually able to resolve the issue, the process took weeks and cost him the apartment he was applying for as a result.

As automation increasingly becomes a part of our everyday lives, scenarios like the above will become more common. Although software like CoreLogic can help landlords process information faster and reduce human error, it comes with its own set of downsides. How to strike the right balance for things such as leasing applications, is the million-dollar question.

At least not all automation has such drawbacks.

Patrick Auger is a management consultant and entrepreneur who resides in Austin, Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Western Illinois University, and is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Auger Consulting Group, LLC. When he's not writing for The American Genius, he's writing about the business of Mixed Martial Arts for The Body Lock or learning how to cook, one burnt recipe at a time.

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