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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Fort Carson Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is a vital part of owning successful Fort Carson rental properties. However, it’s not always easy. There are a number of ways your screening process could go against federal or local landlord laws. 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. 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, all property owners have to understand the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws encompasses all aspects of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA forbids property owners from refusing to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability –and others. The FHA also does not allow landlords to tell a tenant a rental house is unavailable when it is, or to require a certain set of tenants to meet more stringent 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 prepare 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. Make sure that during this conversation, you already discuss the approval criteria as well as other expectations.

However, you should not ask questions that might force your tenant to give up protected information. Some inappropriate queries during tenant screening are those that are about heredity, race, or national origin. Avoid asking about disabilities or familial status as well. Avoid including questions like these in your application documents. And don’t bring them up in conversation either unless the tenant initiates it.

You must also scrutinize your screening process for other possible forms of discrimination. For example, property owners must process applications and screen tenants based on which ones came first. Sitting on an application because you are waiting for another person to apply is one example of discrimination. 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 your answer while you hope for somebody else to 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. You should, however, bear in mind that not all criminal offenses count as sufficient reason to refuse to 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. 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 Colorado a call at 719-471-7368 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.