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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a East Haven Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is important if you want to have successful East Haven rental properties. However, it’s not that easy. Federal or local landlord laws have a big impact on your screening process. These laws help reduce potential discrimination against tenants by protecting them from the onset of the transaction. It is for this reason that you should maintain your tenant screenings to be thorough, yet not bordering on discrimination. Steer clear of discrimination and you will also keep expensive lawsuits away. Not only that, but you also ensure that your processes are fair and compliant with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, the most important law for property owners to understand is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). All aspects of tenant-landlord interaction are covered by this set of laws. The FHA has prohibitions that penalize those who refuse to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability. The FHA also protects tenants from deceit by landlords who say a rental house is unavailable when it is or those who require certain tenants to meet stricter criteria. Landlords are prohibited from requiring a higher security deposit from specific tenants. They also can’t evict someone for any reason that would not cause them to remove a different tenant.

You must have 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. In that conversation, you must lay down your approval criteria and expectations.

But you must not ask questions that could force your tenant into disclosing protected information. Do not inquire about heredity, race, or national origin, as these are usually inappropriate during tenant screening. You shouldn’t also ask questions about disability or familial status. These questions should not be on your application documents and must be avoided in conversation unless the tenant brings it up.

You must also scrutinize 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. You cannot, however, make an applicant wait for an answer while you hope for someone else to apply and qualify.

Finally, as a property owner, you must understand the relevant laws 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 remember that not all criminal offenses are sufficient reasons to deny rent to someone. It is easier for you to adjust your tenant screening process when you know how your local laws differ from federal laws.

Familiarize yourself with the laws in your area so you can ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any specific applicant. With this, you are also keeping yourself free from legal troubles brought about by 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 Southern Connecticut a call at 203-821-7303 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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