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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Owasso Rental Property Application

Owning successful Owasso rental properties requires careful tenant screening. But sometimes the process isn’t as simple as it seems. There are several ways that your screening procedure might violate local or national landlord laws. The purpose of these laws is to prevent discrimination against or for protected classes of renters and to provide habitable shelter. Right from the first conversation, they protect tenants 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. Preventing discrimination not only helps you stay out of risky lawsuits but also helps you keep your process fair and in line with all applicable laws. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most important federal anti-discrimination statute for property owners to grasp. The act encompasses all aspects of the tenant-landlord relationship. According to the FFHA, landlords cannot reject a tenant based on their race, sex, religion, family background, or disability, to name a few. Moreover, the FFHA prevents landlords from falsely stating that a rental home is unavailable or requiring certain tenants to meet stricter qualifications. This encompasses needing a larger security deposit from certain tenants or evicting a tenant for a reason that would not result in the eviction of another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

There may be severe punishments when violating FFHA. A property owner, for instance, may be charged the greatest civil fine of $21,663 for the very first violation of the Fair Housing Act, if a violation was found. Applicants could be fined a maximum of $54,157 for violations of the Fair Housing Act committed within the previous five years, and a maximum of $108,315 for violations committed twice or more within the previous seven years. 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 

To ensure that your screening process is both detailed and legal, it is necessary to have specific guidelines for all interactions with current and future tenants. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. Since tenant screening begins with the very first conversation you have with a prospective tenant, it is essential to take precautions to maintain FFHA compliance. You should emphasize outlining your approval standards and expectations during that initial conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Be careful not to ask your tenant any questions during the tenant screening process that might pressure them to reveal protected information. Normally, it is improper to ask a prospective tenant questions about their ancestry, race, or nationality. For inquiries regarding a disability or family situation, the same is valid. Unless the tenant specifically brings them up, such questions shouldn’t be included in your application materials or brought up in conversation. 

Examine Your Approval Process. It’s essential to examine your screening process for any additional potential forms of discrimination. For instance, Owasso property managers should typically accept and review tenant applications in the order that they are received. Discrimination occurs when you gather applications and keep them on file while you wait for someone else to apply. You should proceed with the screening process for an applicant whose application materials are complete and for whom the necessary fees have been paid. It is reasonable to disqualify an applicant based on predetermined factors, such as a low credit score or poor references. However, making an applicant wait for a response while you wait for someone else to meet the requirements is not. 

Know and Follow the Law. Finally, every landlord should be fully aware of the regulations in place in their region regarding the rental of people with criminal records. Understanding what they are and modifying your tenant screening procedure accordingly is vital because not all criminal offenses are considered good enough grounds to deny a tenant a rental. 

You can guarantee that your tenant screening process does not discriminate against any applicant by familiarizing yourself with the federal and local laws in your area and by adhering to them. It will allow you to avoid fines and legal action, as well as provide your community with equal housing opportunities. 

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.

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