According to the Registry SafeRent website, "Analysis shows that past rental experience is a critical predictor of future rental behavior." In other words, if you've been late with the rent, you're likely to be late with it again.
It's a reasonable deduction, but it doesn't begin to cover any of the millions of reasons that might cause someone to be late with rent, or be evicted. The difficulty of dealing with such systems is that there's no room for explanations or rationales ... just cold, hard data.
In Wilens' view, "rental screening itself may lead to unjustified denials of housing if no consideration is given to the tenant's current situation and/or explanation for what happened in the previous tenancy. "
In addition, just as with credit reports, the potential for error and inaccuracy is enormous. In my own report, for example, I found that cases of my delinquency with rent were marked as being open, years after they had been settled.
One case was adjudicated based on a "soldiers and sailors deferment", granted to military personnel. I have never served in the military. Most shockingly, I was given the contents of another person's report, along with my own. I had access to their name, address, Social Security number, income, and their rental score.
The very company that claimed to have such stringent protections in place against identity theft -- First American Registry -- had handed me another person's information on a silver platter. I returned the other individual's report to FAR with a note explicitly stating how dangerous this was. I received a new report a week later, with all of my information updated.
Rental screening reports will oftentimes display information that differs from what a consumer receives on their credit report. If you have a collection account on your credit report, it generally appears under "Collections". However, a rental screening report can sometimes list such items under "Public Records", usually reserved for more serious circumstances such as bankruptcy, debts, liens, etc. This can cause you to be denied a chance to rent even if the collection is years old and/or completely paid off.
Although individual reference verification and credit checks can generally return better results, even they are not infallible. Witness this "instruction manual" excerpt for checking references from aTenant Screen:
"TIP: When you call the previous landlord, the first question should be: Can you tell me what you have available for rent? Sometimes Prospective Tenants use friends as references, you have to be deceptive and determine whether you are speaking with another landlord or a friend, when you ask the above question and a friend is answering the telephone, their first response will be, 'you have the wrong number'."