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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Burlington Rental Property ApplicationAn important part of owning successful Burlington rental properties is tenant screening. But it’s not that easy. Screening processes are greatly dependent on federal or local landlord laws. These laws have been put in place to reduce potential discrimination against tenants right from the first conversation. This is the reason why you should have a tenant screening process that is thorough but does not cross the line into discrimination. A lot of expensive lawsuits arise from issues about discrimination. Avoiding that would also mean your process is fair and in compliance with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, all property owners have to understand the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws impacts each aspect of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA forbids property owners from refusing to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability –and others. The FHA also restricts landlords from withholding a rental house to a tenant by saying it is unavailable when it is or to ask for more requirements from certain tenants. Accordingly, a landlord must not require a higher security deposit from certain tenants or evict a tenant for any reason that would not cause you to remove a different one.

You must prepare a clear set of guidelines for every interaction you have with potential or current tenants. These guidelines must be applied from the first conversation you will be having with those who are interested in your rental property. Make sure that during this conversation, you already discuss the approval criteria as well as other expectations.

However, you must be careful when asking questions that might force your tenant to disclose protected information. Queries about heredity, race, or national origin are usually inappropriate during tenant screening. Avoid asking about disabilities or familial status as well. You should not put these questions in your application documents nor should your talk about them even in casual conversations with the tenant.

Filtering your own screening process for other forms of discrimination is also very important. For example, property owners must process applications and screen tenants based on which ones came first. Sitting on an application because you are waiting for another person to apply is one example of discrimination. If an applicant has paid the required fees and their application documents are complete, you should continue with the screening process for that applicant. Disqualifying an applicant based on pre-determined criteria, such as their credit score or poor references, is perfectly fine. However, it is not right to make an applicant wait for your answer as you hope for another to apply and qualify.

Lastly, you should have a complete understanding of the laws in your area that pertain to renting to people with a criminal record. The FHA leaves property owners with a surprising amount of leeway when disqualifying a tenant based on their criminal record. But you should remember that not all criminal offenses are considered a sufficient reason to deny someone a rental application. Knowing how your local laws differ from federal laws will help you adjust and align your tenant screening process.

When you know the laws in your area, you can ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any specific applicant. In this way, you also avoid legal problems that typically come with discrimination lawsuits.

Need some property management advice, or maybe you’d rather have someone else take care of it for you? Give Real Property Management Teyata a call at 206-861-5525 or contact us online today!

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.