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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Nelson County Rental Property Application

Owning profitable Nelson County rental properties necessitates thorough tenant screening. Though it may appear simple, the process occasionally isn’t. There are lots of different ways in which your screening method could breach federal or local landlord regulations. These laws are intended to prevent potential discrimination against or on behalf of protected classes of renters and to ensure the availability of habitable housing. They help protect tenants and prospective renters from the very first conversation. It is therefore essential to ensure that your tenant screening is not only exhaustive but also does not include discrimination. By minimizing discrimination, you not only eliminate lengthy and costly lawsuits but also ensure that your process is fair and complies with all applicable laws. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most crucial federal law regarding discrimination that property owners should comprehend. The act addresses all tenant-landlord interactions. A tenant’s race, sex, religion, family situation, or disability, to name a few, cannot be used as grounds for a landlord to refuse to rent out a property under the FFHA. In addition, the FFHA prohibits landlords from distorting the selection of a rental property or requiring certain tenants to meet stricter criteria. This includes asking some tenants for a larger security deposit or evicting someone for any reason that wouldn’t lead you to evict another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

There may be serious repercussions for violating FFHA. For example, if a landowner is found in violation of the Fair Housing Act for the first time, a maximum civil penalty of $21,663 can be imposed. Respondents who had broken the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years were subject to a maximum fine of $54,157, and those who had broken it twice or more in the previous seven years were subject to a maximum fine of $108,315. Avoiding these sanctions is reason enough to ensure that your applicant screening process does not discriminate against any applicants. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

To make sure that your tenant screening process is both precise and legal, it is fundamental to have a set of clear guidelines for every interaction with prospective or current tenants. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. It’s critical to take precautions to ensure everything is FFHA-compliant because tenant screening begins with the very first conversation you have with someone applying for your rental property. You ought to make it a point to outline your approval standards and expectations during that initial conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Keep an eye out for questions that might compel your tenant to reveal protected information while conducting the tenant screening process. Typically, inquiries into ancestry, race, or national origin are not appropriate during the tenant screening process. The same holds for inquiries about a person’s ability or family situation. These questions should not show up on your application forms and should be avoided in the discussion unless the tenant talks about it. 

Examine Your Approval Process. Additionally, it is important to check your screening process for any potential forms of discrimination. For instance, as a general rule, Nelson County property managers should approve applications and screen tenants in the order that they are received. It is discrimination to receive an application but then wait for another applicant to apply before reviewing it. If the applicant has paid the due amount and presented complete application forms, you should begin the screening process. It is appropriate to disqualify an applicant based on predetermined criteria, such as a low credit score or inadequate references. It is not ethical, however, to make an applicant wait for a reply while hoping for someone else to qualify. 

Know and Follow the Law. Finally, each property owner should have a thorough understanding of the local law relating to renting to people with a criminal record. Since not all criminal offenses are viewed as sufficient grounds for denying tenancy, it is important to know which ones are and modify your tenant screening process accordingly. 

Your tenant screening process shouldn’t discriminate against any particular applicant if you are aware of the local and federal laws that apply to it and you follow them. This will save you from fines and lawsuits and ensure that your community has access to fair housing. 

Need some property management advice, or maybe you’d rather have someone else take care of it for you? Give Real Property Management Cairn a call at 434-215-3028 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.