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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Catonsville Rental Property Application

Tenant screening is a crucial aspect of owning prosperous Catonsville rental properties. Despite appearances, the process is not always as simple as it may appear. There are lots of different ways in which your screening method could breach federal or local landlord regulations. These regulations aim to provide livable housing while preventing potential discrimination against or for protected classes of renters. From the very first conversation, they safeguard current and prospective tenants. This is why it is essential to make sure that your tenant screening is not only detailed but that it does not overstep the line into discrimination. Avoiding discrimination will help you keep your process fair and in line with all applicable laws while also preventing potentially costly lawsuits. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most crucial federal law regarding discrimination that property owners should comprehend. Every facet of tenant-landlord interactions is covered by the act. The FFHA prohibits landlords from rejecting a tenant based on their race, sex, religion, family situation, or disability, to name a few. In addition, the FFHA prohibits landlords from distorting the selection of a rental property or requiring certain tenants to meet stricter criteria. This includes requesting a greater security deposit from particular tenants or evicting someone for any reason other than the reason you would evict another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

Violating FFHA can result in severe penalties. For example, if a landowner is found in violation of the Fair Housing Act for the first time, a maximum civil penalty of $21,663 can be imposed. Respondents who had broken the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years were subject to a maximum fine of $54,157, and those who had broken it twice or more in the previous seven years were subject to a maximum fine of $108,315. The fact that your screening procedure shouldn’t exclude any applicants is a good enough reason in and of itself to avoid these penalties. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

It’s essential to have specific rules for every interaction with potential or present tenants if you want to make sure that your screening process is both thorough and legal. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. Since tenant screening begins with the very first conversation you have with an applicant for your rental property, it is imperative to take precautions to maintain FFHA compliance. During that initial discussion, you should emphasize describing your approval criteria and expectations. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Keep an eye out for questions that might compel your tenant to reveal protected information while conducting the tenant screening process. Throughout tenant screening, it is generally inappropriate to inquire about ancestry, race, or national origin. Inquiries about a person’s disability or family situation are the same. Such queries shouldn’t be included in your application documents, and you should steer clear of them in conversation unless the tenant mentions them. 

Examine Your Approval Process. Examining your screening process for other possible forms of discrimination is crucial. As a rule, for example, Catonsville property managers should generally accept applications and carry out tenant screenings in the order they are received. A form of discrimination is to collect applications and then delay them while you wait for someone else to submit theirs. If the applicant has paid the due amount and presented complete application forms, you should begin the screening process. It’s acceptable to reject an applicant based on predetermined standards, such as a low credit score or unpleasant references. It’s not acceptable to delay a response while you wait for someone else to meet the requirements, though. 

Know and Follow the Law. Last but not least, every landlord should be fully aware of the local regulations governing renting to people with a criminal record. It’s helpful to comprehend what they are and modify your tenant screening process accordingly because not all criminal offenses are considered good enough grounds to deny a tenant a rental. 

Your tenant screening process shouldn’t discriminate against any particular applicant if you are aware of the local and federal laws that apply to it and you follow them. Your community will receive fair housing as a result, and you will be able to avoid any fines or legal action. 

Need some property management advice, or maybe you’d rather have someone else take care of it for you? Give Real Property Management Prime a call at 410-415-1736 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.

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