Tenant screening is a vital part of owning successful Catonsville 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 have been designed to reduce potential discrimination against tenants. It is for this reason that you should maintain your tenant screenings to be thorough, yet not bordering on discrimination. It is important to be fair and in compliance with the relevant laws. Avoiding discrimination will also mean avoiding expensive lawsuits.
When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, property owners should be well versed with the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws encompasses all aspects of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA prohibits property owners from refusing to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability. 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. Landlords should not require a higher security deposit from certain tenants nor evict someone for any reason that would not cause them to remove a different tenant.
As a property owner, you should have a clear set of guidelines for every interaction you have with your potential or current tenants. This should be applied beginning with the initial conversation you have with parties interested in your rental property. During that conversation, you must present the pertinent approval criteria and expectations.
However, you shouldn’t ask questions that might force your tenant to disclose protected information. Inquiries about heredity, race, or national origin are deemed inappropriate during tenant screening. Don’t ask about disability or familial status as well. Unless the tenant brings up the issue, it would be best to avoid it in conversation. More importantly, these questions should not appear on your application documents.
Likewise, it is helpful to really go over your screening process to check for other potential forms of discrimination. For one, property owners are supposed to process applications and screen tenants in the order in which they are received. It would also be discriminatory to collect an application and just sit on it because you are waiting for somebody else 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. You cannot, however, make an applicant wait for an answer while you hope for someone else to apply and qualify.
Lastly, all property owners must have a good grasp of pertinent laws 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. 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.
Knowing the laws in your area can help you ensure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any specific applicant. Doing so will help you avoid legal problems usually related to discrimination lawsuits.
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.