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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Pflugerville Rental Property ApplicationA vital part of owning successful Pflugerville rental properties is tenant screening. However, it is easier said than done. Federal or local landlord laws will influence your screening process. These laws have been designed to reduce potential discrimination against tenants by protecting them even from the initial conversation. Because of this, your tenant screening process must not involve any discrimination, regardless of how thorough you may be. When you steer clear of discrimination, you also protect yourself from expensive lawsuits and ensure that your dealings are fair and in compliance with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, the most important law for property owners to understand is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws comes into play in all aspects of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA has prohibitions that penalize those who refuse to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability. In addition, the FHA prohibits landlords from telling a tenant a rental house is unavailable when it actually is, or to require other tenants to meet stricter criteria. Landlords are prohibited from requiring a higher security deposit from specific tenants. They also can’t evict someone for any reason that would not cause them to remove a different tenant.

It’s important to have a clear set of guidelines for interactions you have with potential or current tenants. This applies even to the very first conversation you have with interested applicants for your rental property. In that conversation, you should already inform them of the approval criteria and expectations.

But be careful not to force your tenant to disclose protected information. Some inappropriate queries during tenant screening are those that are about heredity, race, or national origin. Questions about disability or familial status are to be avoided as well. These questions should not be on your application documents and must be avoided in conversation unless the tenant brings it up.

You must also scrutinize your screening process for other possible forms of discrimination. As a rule, receiving applications and screening of tenants should be done in the order in which they were received. Discrimination is also shown when you do not immediately process an application just because you are waiting for someone 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. However, making an applicant wait while you hope for someone else to qualify isn’t.

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. But remember that not all criminal offenses are sufficient reasons to deny rent to someone. Local laws sometimes differ from federal laws, so it is critical that you understand what they are so you can then adjust your tenant screening process.

When you know the laws in your area, you can be sure that your tenant screening process isn’t discriminating against any applicant. With this, you are also keeping yourself free from legal troubles brought about by 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 Bluebonnet a call at 512-850-7084 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.