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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Burlington Rental Property Application

Tenant screening is a crucial part of owning profitable Burlington rental properties. Though it may appear simple, the process occasionally isn’t. There are numerous ways that your screening procedure could violate local or national landlord laws. The purpose of these laws is to prevent discrimination against or for protected classes of renters and to provide habitable shelter. Right from the first conversation, they protect tenants and prospective tenants. Due diligence must be taken in your tenant screening to avoid discrimination, in addition to being thorough. By abstaining from discrimination, you not only keep yourself out of potentially crippling lawsuits, but you also make sure that your procedure is just and in line with all relevant legislation. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the primary federal law regarding discrimination that property owners need to be aware of. All interactions between tenants and landlords are covered by the act. According to the FFHA, landlords cannot reject a tenant based on their race, sex, religion, family background, or disability, to name a few. The FFHA also forbids landlords from misrepresenting the availability of a rental home or imposing stricter requirements on particular tenants. This encompasses needing a larger security deposit from certain tenants or evicting a tenant for a reason that would not result in the eviction of another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

There may be severe punishments when violating FFHA. For instance, a property owner who is found in violation of the Fair Housing Act may be subject to a maximum civil penalty of $21,663 for the offense. Persons who infringed the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years could be fined up to $54,157, and respondents who breached the Act twice or more in the previous seven years could be charged up to a maximum of $108,315. Avoiding these penalties is sufficient justification for ensuring that your applicant screening process is not discriminatory. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

To verify that your tenant screening process is both thorough and legal, it is essential to have clear guidelines for all interactions with new and existing tenants. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. Since tenant screening begins with the very first conversation you have with a prospective tenant, it is essential to take precautions to maintain FFHA compliance. You ought to make it a point to outline your approval standards and expectations during that initial conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. All through the tenant screening process, resist asking questions that could entice a tenant to divulge private information. Usually, it is inappropriate to ask questions during the tenant screening process about ancestry, race, or national origin. The same stands true for queries concerning disability or family status. Such inquiries shouldn’t be made in conversation or on your application materials unless the tenant specifically brings them up. 

Examine Your Approval Process. It’s essential to examine your screening process for any additional potential forms of discrimination. As an illustration, Burlington property managers should ordinarily accept applications and interview potential tenants in the order that they are received. It is discrimination to receive an application but then wait for another applicant to apply before reviewing it. If an applicant has already paid the amounts required and forwarded complete application materials, you should proceed with the screening process. It is reasonable to disqualify an applicant based on predetermined factors, such as a low credit score or poor references. However, making an applicant wait for a response while you wait for someone else to meet the requirements is not. 

Know and Follow the Law. Last but not least, every landlord should be fully aware of the regulations in place in their community regarding the renting of people with criminal records. It’s crucial to recognize what they are and modify your tenant screening process appropriately because not all criminal offenses are considered good enough grounds to deny someone a rental. 

Your tenant screening process really should not be inclined against any distinct applicant if you are aware of the federal and local laws that apply to your area and you maintain compliance. This will aid you in avoiding any fines or legal action, as well as assist in offering your neighborhood fair housing.

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.

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