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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Fruita Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is a very significant component of owning thriving and successful Fruita rental properties. But in actuality, it isn’t always uncomplicated nor easy. There are lots of unexpected ways that your screening process could run afoul of federal or local landlord laws. These laws are designed to help reduce potential discrimination against tenants, laws that protect them right from the very first conversation. Thus, it is so imperative to be sure that your tenant screening is not only thorough but at the same time, that it also doesn’t cross the line into discrimination. By way of avoiding discrimination, you simply not only avoid potentially expensive lawsuits but at the same time, you also warrant that your process is fair and in compliance with all relevant laws.

As to federal laws about discrimination, the most vital one for property owners to realize and understand well is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws covers every aspect of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA does not allow property owners to refuse to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability – to mention a few. The FHA also prohibits landlords from telling a tenant a rental house is unavailable when it is, or to require certain tenants to meet a tougher set of criteria. This consists of requiring a higher security deposit from certain tenants or evicting someone for any reason that would not cause you to remove a different tenant.

It’s utterly important to have a clear set of guidelines for every interaction you have with potential or current tenants. This really starts with the very first conversation you have with someone looking to apply for your rental property. In that first conversation, you should make it a point to describe your approval criteria and expectations.

On the flip side, you should be sensible not to ask questions that might force your tenant to disclose protected information. Inquiries about heredity, race, or national origin are typically inappropriate during tenant screening. The same holds true for questions about disability or familial status. Such topics should not be stipulated on your application documents and should be avoided in conversation with them unless the tenant talks about it.

It’s, in addition, crucial to evaluate your screening process for other not-so-obvious forms of discrimination. For illustration, landlords should accept applications and screen tenants in the order in which they are received. Taking and then sitting on an application because you’re waiting for someone else to apply is a form of discrimination. If an applicant has paid the required fees and their application documents are complete, you should go ahead 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 well. But making an applicant wait for an answer while you are waiting for another individual to qualify isn’t.

One final note, every property owner should have a thorough understanding of the laws in their area in connection 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. However, not all criminal offenses are considered sufficient reason to refuse to rent to any person. Local laws may differ from federal, which makes it very critical to really get and understand what they are and tailor your tenant screening process in this manner.

By knowing the laws in your area, you can ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any distinct applicant. Consequently, you can keep yourself free of legal trouble and significantly reduce potential 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 Now a call at 970-314-7123 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.