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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Owasso Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is a vital part of owning successful Owasso rental properties. However, it’s not always easy. Screening processes are greatly dependent on federal or local landlord laws. These laws have been designed to reduce potential discrimination against tenants. Because of this, your tenant screening process must not involve any discrimination, regardless of how thorough you may be. A lot of expensive lawsuits arise from issues about discrimination. Avoiding that would also mean your process is fair and in compliance with all relevant laws.

When it comes to federal laws about discrimination, all property owners have to understand the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This set of laws comes into play in all aspects of tenant-landlord interaction. The FHA forbids property owners from refusing to rent a property based on a tenant’s race, religion, family status, or disability –and others. The FHA also forbids landlords from deceiving a tenant by saying a rental house is unavailable when it is or to ask for more requirements from certain tenants. 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.

It’s important to have a clear set of guidelines for interactions you have with 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 must be careful when asking 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. You should not put these questions in your application documents nor should your talk about them even in casual conversations with the tenant.

Filtering your own screening process for other forms of discrimination is also very important. As a rule, receiving applications and screening of tenants should be done in the order in which they were received. It is also discrimination when you collect and then sit on an application just because you are waiting for some other person 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, all property owners should have a very good understanding of the laws that deal with 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. When you know how your local laws differ from federal, you can easily tweak 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. By doing this, you can avoid legal trouble from 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 Tulsa a call at 918-532-7020 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.