I am sure this question goes through the minds of many new landlords. And it is an area that, if not handled well, can cause many headaches and heartaches. I have a friend who recently had to evict a tenant for not paying their rent, and then to add insult to injury had to clean up the complete mess they left behind after vacating the property. No one wants to deal with that kind of situation and proper tenant screening is the best way to minimize the risk.
However, tenant screening is also subject to fair housing laws. Landlords, who are not formerly trained in fair housing law and may be unaware of local landlord-tenant legislation, put themselves at risk of litigation if the screening is not handled properly.
Fair housing legislation is in place to prevent unlawful discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. Some state laws may include additional protections, such as marital status, age, sexual orientation, and more.
It is extremely important to handle the screening process in an educated and professional manner so that you avoid questions, comments, and conversation that may lead to accusations of discrimination (intended or not!). You must treat each applicant equally, meaning you ask everyone the same questions and expect them to meet the same objective criteria.
What kind of questions can landlords ask tenants during the screening process?
- Financial Information, to determine the ability to pay rent
- Rental History, to find out if there have been issues with rent payment or proper care of past rental properties
- Work History, to verify employment
- Criminal History
- Move in timeframe and reason for the move
What should they avoid completely?
- Discussion about family or children
- Racial comments or conversation
- Conversation about religious beliefs
- Conversation about marital or sexual relationships
- Personal conversation about the tenant
- and more...
In the end, you must choose a tenant based on their ability to pay the rent and care for the property. If they meet the objective criteria you've established in advance, then the tenant is qualified and must be offered a chance to rent the property.