Two proptech firms settle housing discrimination charges

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Two proptech companies are paying the state $100,000 in fines and redesigning their products after settling Attorney General Maura Healey’s charges that their software discriminated against apartment owners.

Boston-based Buildium and Virginia-based Tenant Turner sold apartment building management software in Massachusetts that allowed landlords to automatically reject applications from potential tenants to use intended government-provided housing credits to pay a portion of their rent, as well as tenants with felony convictions, Healey’s office said.

The companies marketed their tenant screening software as “Fair Housing Compliant.” However, in Massachusetts it is illegal to discriminate against potential renters based on the way they pay for their apartment or against renters with certain felony convictions.

“Public rental assistance programs are critical to the economic security of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents, yet the source of income discrimination among housing providers remains a pervasive practice that poses a major obstacle to finding a safe and affordable place to live,” Healey said in a statement. “This software was designed to unlawfully bar certain prospective tenants from screening, and my office will take action to prevent businesses like these from perpetuating inequalities and harming our communities.”

As part of the settlement, the companies are prohibited from offering features in the tenant pre-qualification software that automatically reject applicants for welfare or criminal records, that let landlords know whether a prospective renter has a housing voucher, or that can indicate a preference for tenants because of their receipt of welfare. Businesses must also adopt new fair housing policies.

Healey’s office said the charges against Buildium and Tenant Turner are part of a “broader investigation into the tenant screening and background checking industry.” Her office said it was concerned that tenant screening software and other digital property management tools could disproportionately harm minority and low-income residents in Massachusetts.

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