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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a John Island Rental Property ApplicationAn important part of owning successful John Island rental properties is tenant screening. But it is much easier said than done. Federal or local landlord laws have a big impact on your screening process. These laws have been designed to reduce potential discrimination against tenants by protecting them even from the initial conversation. It is for this reason that you should maintain your tenant screenings to be thorough, yet not bordering on discrimination. When you steer clear of discrimination, you also protect yourself from expensive lawsuits and ensure that your dealings are fair and in compliance with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, property owners should be well versed with the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws impacts each aspect of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA does not allow refusal to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability. 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.

A clear set of guidelines for every interaction you have with potential or current tenants is very important. These guidelines must be applied from the first conversation you will be having with those who are interested in your rental property. In that conversation, you should already inform them of the approval criteria and expectations.

However, you must be careful when asking questions that might force your tenant to disclose protected information. Do not ask questions pertaining to heredity, race, or national origin during tenant screening, as these are considered inappropriate. Do not ask about their disability 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.

You should also check your screening process for other possible forms of discrimination. For one, property owners are supposed to process applications and screen tenants in the order in which they are received. Discrimination is also shown when you do not immediately process an application just because you are waiting for someone else to apply. 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, making an applicant wait while you hope for someone else to qualify isn’t.

Finally, all property owners should have a very good understanding of the laws that deal with 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 remember that not all criminal offenses are sufficient reasons to deny rent to someone. Local laws sometimes differ from federal laws, so it is critical that you understand what they are so you can then adjust your tenant screening process.

Knowing the laws in your area can help you ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any specific applicant. Doing so will help you avoid legal problems usually related to 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 Distinguished Care a call at 828-342-9683 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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