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Screening Tenants without Discriminating

It may seem unfair to some, but tenants actually have more flexibility without recourse when it comes to choosing which landlord they do business with as opposed to landlords being able to use their own gut reaction. The legal reality is that landlords are limited in scope when making decisions. The three basic criteria in approving tenancy are typically credit, income and references. Deviating from those may leave the door wide open to potential claims of discrimination.

The Same Old Routine

Landlords must adopt a consistent routine regarding prospective tenant screening practices. If one applicant’s credit report is pulled, any subsequent or competing applicants must also have their credit pulled too. The same goes for all other services or underwriting procedures and it doesn’t matter the race, religion or gender, etc. For example: If a priest applies versus a forklift operator, a criminal record (if typically used) must be pulled on both. It’s an all or nothing situation. A 250lb man with a leather vest and tattoos should be screened the same way as the 110 lb woman who’s a preschool teacher.

In order to limit exposure to legal attacks, decisions should not be based on personal preferences. Each applicant should be considered a business decision that should be limited by predetermined criteria. This is not a unique requirement to landlords as this is exactly how housing lenders operate as they seldom ever see what the applicant looks like.

Fair Housing Laws

The Federal Fair Housing Acts (42 U.S. Code §§3601-3619, 3631) prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status, physical or mental disability (including recovering alcoholics and people with a past drug addiction). States and local jurisdictions have also enacted their owns laws to deter discrimination against a citizen’s marital status or sexual orientation.

Landlords lucky enough to have employees managing property must also instruct their staff to abide by any federal or state laws and a code of conduct. Landlords acting as an employer can often be held liable for any inappropriate actions or comments made by their staff.