Skip to Content

Get a FREE assessment of your rental property. Start here!

Get a FREE assessment of your rental property. Start here!

Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Cheney Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is important if you want to have successful Cheney rental properties. But it is much easier said than done. Federal or local landlord laws will affect how you go about your screening process. These laws help reduce potential discrimination against tenants by protecting them from the onset of the transaction. This is why it is critical that your tenant screening, thorough it may be, does not cross the line into discrimination. When you avoid discrimination, you also avoid expensive lawsuits and you ensure that your screening process is fair and compliant with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, it is very important that property owners understand the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). All aspects of tenant-landlord interaction are covered by this set of laws. As a property owner, you are forbidden by the FHA to refuse rental of a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability – to name a few. 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. One of these prohibitions is that a landlord can’t require a higher security deposit from certain tenants. Fair treatment in terms of tenant eviction is also covered by this law.

You must have a clear set of guidelines for every interaction you have with potential or current tenants. This must start with the initial conversation you have with applicants for your rental property. In that conversation, you must lay down your approval criteria and expectations.

However, you should not ask questions that might force your tenant to give up 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. None of these questions must be on your application documents. In addition, you are not to have conversations about them unless the tenant brings it up.

You should also check your screening process for other possible forms of discrimination. As a rule, landlords must process applications and screen tenants based on which one came first. It is also discrimination when you collect and then sit on an application just because you are waiting for some other person 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. On the other hand, it is not right to make an applicant wait for an answer because you keep hoping for another person to qualify. Finally, you must have a full understanding of the laws in your area that cover 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, you must know which criminal offenses are considered sufficient reason to refuse someone a rental application. When you know how your local laws differ from federal, you can easily tweak your tenant screening process.

As long as you know the laws in your area, you can ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any specific applicant. By doing this, you can avoid legal trouble from 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 Spokane County 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.