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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Cheney Rental Property Application

Owning successful Cheney rental properties requires careful tenant screening. But sometimes the process isn’t as simple as it seems. There are several ways that your screening procedure might violate local or national landlord laws. These laws are intended to protect protected classes of renters from potential discrimination and to provide livable housing. They help protect tenants and prospective renters from the very first conversation. Because of this, it’s crucial to check that your tenant screening is not only thorough but also devoid of any forms of discrimination. By minimizing discrimination, you not only eliminate lengthy and costly lawsuits but also ensure that your process is fair and complies with all applicable laws. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most crucial statute for property owners to comprehend when it comes to federal laws against discrimination. The act encompasses all aspects of the tenant-landlord relationship. The FFHA prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on, along with other factors, their race, sex, religion, family status, or disability. The FFHA forbids landlords from misinterpreting the provision of a rental home to a tenant or from demanding that certain tenants adhere to more rigid requirements. This includes needing a larger security deposit from specific tenants or evicting a tenant for a reason that would not lead to the eviction of another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

There are major consequences for violating FFHA. For their first offense of the Fair Housing Act, a property owner, for instance, could be hit with a maximum civil penalty of $21,663. The maximum fine for respondents who had broken the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years was $54,157, and the maximum fine for respondents who had broken the law twice or more in the previous seven years was $108,315. It is wise to make sure that your applicant screening procedure does not prejudice any applicants simply to avoid incurring these penalties. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

To make sure that your tenant screening process is both precise and legal, it is fundamental to have a set of clear guidelines for every interaction with prospective or current tenants. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. It’s vital to take safety measures to keep everything FFHA-compliant because tenant screening begins with the very first discussion you have with someone seeking to apply for your rental property. It’s important to mention your approval standards and expectations throughout the first conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Be cautious when conducting the tenant screening process to avoid requesting protected information from your tenant. Typically, inquiries into ancestry, race, or national origin are not appropriate during the tenant screening process. For inquiries regarding a disability or family situation, the same is valid. Unless the tenant specifically brings them up, such questions shouldn’t be included in your application materials or brought up in conversation. 

Examine Your Approval Process. Additionally, it is important to check your screening process for any potential forms of discrimination. For instance, Cheney property managers should typically accept and review tenant applications in the order that they are received. Discrimination occurs when you gather applications and keep them on file while you wait for someone else to apply. You should proceed with the screening process for an applicant whose application materials are complete and for whom the necessary fees have been paid. It is acceptable to reject an applicant based on predetermined standards, such as a low credit score or unfavorable references. It is not ethical, however, to make an applicant wait for a reply while hoping for someone else to qualify. 

Know and Follow the Law. Finally, each property owner should have a thorough understanding of the local law relating to renting to people with a criminal record. Understanding what they are and modifying your tenant screening procedure accordingly is vital because not all criminal offenses are considered good enough grounds to deny a tenant a rental. 

Knowing the federal and local laws in your area and abiding by them can make sure that your tenant screening process does not discriminate against any applicant. It will allow you to avoid fines and legal action, as well as provide your community with equal housing opportunities. 

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.