Questions You Cannot Ask When Screening a Prospective Tenant

Screening potential tenants who want to rent your property means asking a lot of questions. Whatever you do, though, don’t ask the following.

Any Question That Could Sound Like Discrimination

As a landlord, it is absolutely essential that you understand your state’s Fair Housing Law as well as the Federal Fair Housing Law. These pieces of legislation make it very clear that you cannot discriminate against someone looking to rent your home. However, you also can’t ask any questions that might be interpreted this way.

For example, you might ask someone’s marital status simply because you want an idea of who all will be living in your property. Unfortunately, that question could be taken as a sign that you wouldn’t rent to them unless they were single or you’d deny them if it turns out the person was gay.

Have You Ever Been Arrested?

You can ask a prospective tenant if they have been convicted of a crime. That’s not the same as being convicted, though, which is why you can’t ask about an arrest. People are arrested all the time for reasons that eventually turn out to be unfounded. Landlords cannot deny someone a place to live simply because they were charged with a crime.

That being said, in states like California, even if someone has been convicted of a crime before, that’s not a good enough reason to decide they can’t rent from you. The crime they were convicted of would have to reflect on their inability to be a good tenant. For example, if they have a violent past, this would be grounds for denial if they wanted to live in your apartment building, because they could hurt another tenant.

Any Question Outside of Your Usual Screening Procedure

Every prospective tenant who tries to rent from you must go through the same exact screening process. Otherwise, you’re going to leave yourself open for a lawsuit on the grounds that you made it more difficult for someone to become a tenant because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, etc.

This is where you need to be very careful even with friendly small talk. You might slip and ask a question of someone that they then hold against you in court even though you didn’t mean anything by it.

Furthermore, this is why you can’t make assumptions. If a prospective tenant rolls up in a sports car with an expensive suit on and two months worth of rent plus the deposit ready, it’s probably safe to assume they can afford to live in your property. Nonetheless, if you don’t run a credit check on them because of this, you have to quit running one on other candidates too or, once again, it will look like discrimination.

As you can see, screening tenants isn’t as simple as just asking whatever questions come to mind and seem relevant. This is actually how you could get yourself in a lot of trouble. Keep away from the questions we mentioned above and stick to a script instead so you’ll have no problems with the law.

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