NewsThe SouthSider

Screening service gives leeway on ‘iffy’ tenants

ST. LOUIS – To weed out problem tenants, landlords use services that screen them for such warning signs as criminal records, bad credit ratings or evictions because of failure to pay.

One local tenant screening service considers those items in making recommendations to landlords. But that service, developed by the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corp., also provides latitude for people who have had problems in the past but still may be acceptable tenants.  

The Tower Grove organization believes ARCH by HomeScreen, or At-risk Renters’ Connection to Housing, could help those who are at risk of homelessness. The focus is on racial equity and inclusion.

The system provides more information than other screening services to show a landlord how an applicant would operate as a renter, said Ella Gross, tenant screening manager for the Tower Grove organization. 

In all cases, it’s up to the landlord to decide whether to accept a potential tenant.

“In our normal screening process, we train our landlords to look past traditional data points, like credit scores and arrest records, that have been proven to have systemic racism baked into the measurements themselves,” Gross said.   “The landlords on ARCH opted in to the program, voluntarily, because they want to house people with barriers, like a past criminal conviction or eviction.”

The group has received 892 applications so far this year and recommended 84 percent of them. Out of the 16 percent the group did not recommend, landlords approved almost one in five to be tenants. 

The group released an original software for landlords and property managers in March 2019. That recommended about 85 percent of applicants. 

The Tower Grove Neighborhood Community Development Corp. has screened about 15,000 prospective tenants since it formed in 2015. 

The program does not consider minimum credit scores or arrest records. However, it requires that there be no violent felony convictions in the last 10 years.

One landlord who likes and uses that system is Adona Buford, who rents property on the North Side. She believes in its less restrictive philosophy.

“I agree with that as long as it’s not a heinous crime like a murder,” Buford said. 

With the system, calls for police have gone down, and some tenants have gone on to own homes, Gross said.

Prospective tenants pay a $42 application fee. For that the Tower Grove group does a credit check, a national eviction search, an income verification and a rental history verification. 

One landlord who uses a different approach is Jaymes Dearing, who owns about 50 rental units, mainly in Dutchtown and Carondelet. He also is part owner of a management company that takes care of about 250 units, including his own.

Dearing requires a minimum credit score and a documented income. 

A screener provides the information, but the owner decides, Dearing said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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