When technology advocates talk about the benefits of automation, one aspect they typically highlight is that computer processes don’t replicate human biases. It’s an argument that makes sense – computers are objective, right? Not exactly.
Computers may not be inherently biased, but they are programmed by people who are biased. As a landlord or property manager, then, it’s important to consider what it means to automate the tenant screening process. Is it beneficial, or is it excluding people who could be successful from finding suitable housing?
Pros: Automation Advantages
Screening tenants is an integral part of renting out your home or any other property, and it’s important to do so for both your own protection and the good of your tenants. That being said, there are a lot different ways to approach the process. For property managers or landlords managing a lot of applications, however, automation is a helpful tool if only because it offers a necessary measure of efficiency.
Because of how much work it is to vet tenants for rental properties, many landlords choose to use tenant screening services that do the groundwork for them. These services are often computerized and use database queries to run applicant information and provide accurate background data on which to base decisions. As a result, automating the screening process lets landlords make decisions more quickly and get people into properties in a timely manner.
Cons: Coding For Bias
While automating the tenant screening process can help turn a cumbersome professional process into an easy to manage point on a checklist, it also presents certain concerns. In particular, many anti-automation advocates argue that automating the screening process makes it nearly impossible for individuals who have had a brief period of ill-fortune to get back on their feet, even if they’ve made progress towards repairing their finances. That isn’t protecting landlords or supporting tenants, which is counterproductive to the process. Many have found they can counter this particular issue by using an online rental application without the screening report; this makes it easy collect information, but lets landlords evaluate applicants more holistically.
Another major issue with automating the tenant screening process is that the systems aren’t always accurate, but there’s little oversight in place to catch mistakes. Landlords have received tenant screening reports containing lists of crimes that didn’t belong to the applicant, but they had no way of cross-referencing the information. This can result in the most vulnerable tenants being left homeless, through no fault of their own.
Automating various aspects of the property management process has its advantages, and can make daily operations easier. Any time that a property manager chooses to automate a process, however, they need to carefully evaluate the programs they plan to use to ensure they’re reputable, and they should consider confirming the information they receive with a second line of screening, even if that increases costs and labor.
Automation should help everyone, rather than acting as a punitive set of barriers making housing even less attainable. Right now bias is coded into the system, so users have to be cautious not to compound those issues.