Tenant screening is a crucial step in the rental process for landlords. It allows you to identify responsible and reliable tenants who are likely to pay rent on time and take good care of your property. 

However, you MUST be aware of fair housing laws and regulations when conducting tenant screening, as violating these laws can result in serious legal consequences, including fines and lawsuits.

In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to tenant screening for landlords, with a focus on avoiding fair housing violations. 

We will cover the key steps that you should take to conduct tenant screening in a way that is fair, unbiased, and in compliance with the law. 

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you’re selecting responsible tenants while avoiding potential legal issues.

1. Understand Fair Housing Laws

The Fair Housing Act and other state and local laws prohibit discrimination against tenants based on certain characteristics, such as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with these laws and understand what types of discrimination are prohibited.

For example, under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants or applicants on the basis of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Some states and local jurisdictions have additional protected classes, such as sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income.

Understanding these laws and how they apply to your rental property can help you to avoid unintentional violations and ensure that you are providing a fair and inclusive housing environment for all tenants.

2. Use a Standardized Screening Process

To avoid discrimination and ensure fairness, it’s a good idea to use a standardized screening process for ALL tenants. 

This process should include a written application, a credit check, a criminal background check, and reference checks. 

Doing so ensures that all tenants are evaluated based on the same criteria, without discrimination, and promotes fairness and transparency in the tenant screening process,

3. Advertise the Rental Property Properly

When advertising a rental property, you should use inclusive language and avoid any statements that could be interpreted as discriminatory. 

For example, avoid phrases such as “perfect for families” or “young professionals only,” which could suggest a preference for certain types of tenants and potentially violate fair housing laws. 

Instead, focus on describing the property itself, its features and amenities, and the location. 

You can also highlight any specific rental criteria that are relevant to all applicants, such as credit score or income requirements, as long as they are objective and not discriminatory. 

4. Avoid Prohibited Screening Criteria

When evaluating tenants, you should avoid using criteria that could be considered discriminatory, such as income requirements that unfairly exclude certain groups or credit score minimums that have a disproportionate impact on certain racial or ethnic groups. 

Instead, focus on objective criteria that are relevant to a tenant’s ability to pay rent and take care of the property. 

These might include income-to-rent ratios, rental history, and criminal history, among other factors. By using objective criteria, you can help ensure that all applicants are evaluated fairly and without discrimination.

5. Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Tenants with Disabilities

Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, such as allowing a tenant with a service animal to live in a no-pet building. 

It’s important to be aware of these requirements and ensure that all tenants are treated equally and fairly, regardless of their disability. 

Failure to do so can result in legal action, fines, and damage to your reputation as a landlord.

6. Keep Records of Tenant Screening

Finally, it’s a good idea to keep accurate and detailed records of your tenant screening process. 

This includes all application materials and screening criteria used to evaluate tenants. By keeping these records, you can demonstrate that your process was fair, unbiased, and in compliance with fair housing laws. 

In addition, these records can be useful in the event of a legal dispute or complaint.

By keeping detailed and accurate records, you can demonstrate your commitment to fairness and compliance with fair housing laws, while also identifying areas for improvement and mitigating legal risks.

Wrapping up

To sum up, tenant screening is an important part of the rental process, but it’s important to conduct it in a way that’s fair, unbiased, and in compliance with fair housing laws. 

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you are selecting reliable tenants while avoiding discrimination and potential legal issues.