Here are 4 Keys to Staying Out of Fair Housing Hot Water
1. Welcome all applicants.
For years, it has been illegal to discriminate, but many landlords implement practices that are blatantly illegal. For example, it is against the law to exclude families from consideration because you feel children cause wear and tear on your rental property or because you prefer a “mature and quiet” environment. You may limit the number of residents you allow in a unit per Fair Housing guidelines, but you must apply that standard equally to all applicants.
2. Be consistent in your screening process.
Each applicant must be treated exactly the same. Check credit, income, and references. Verify employment, income, and bank account information. Follow the same procedure for everyone, not just those you feel are a risk. Do not give any prospective or existing tenants preferential treatment (including friends & family)!
3. Screen tenants thoroughly, but know what questions you can and cannot ask.
Many seemingly innocent questions or remarks (such as inquiring about a disability, marital status, or even a person’s height!) can lead to accusations of discrimination. If you ask the wrong questions, and then decide to reject a tenant, they may lodge a Fair Housing complaint, even if your reason for rejection had nothing to do with the offending question. And…there are Fair Housing watch-dog groups that are eager to help them pursue legal retribution.
4. Make decisions based on sound business reasons.
It is legal for you to choose the tenant from among the prospects, as long as your decision is based on legitimate business criteria, not personal bias. You may reject a tenant based on poor credit history, insufficient income, or past behavior (late rent, damage, eviction, etc.). These are legitimate reasons; they indicate the prospective tenant is a poor business risk. You may also refuse to rent to people who don’t pay the required security deposit or who fail to meet one or more of the conditions for tenancy.