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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Homestead Rental Property Application

Tenant screening is a vital component of successfully managing Homestead rental properties. It’s not always as simple as it may seem, though. Your screening procedure may violate various federal or local landlord laws in many different ways. 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 protect renters and prospective renters from the initial conversation onward. It is therefore essential to ensure that your tenant screening is not only exhaustive but also does not include discrimination. By resisting discrimination, you not only remove potentially costly lawsuits but also guarantee that your process is fair and per all applicable laws. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most important federal anti-discrimination statute for property owners to comprehend. The act covers all facets of landlord-tenant relations. The FFHA prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on their race, sex, religion, family status, or disability, among other factors. The FFHA explicitly prohibits landlords from misconstruing the usage of a rental home to a tenant or from imposing stricter requirements on specific tenants. This involves asking for a larger security deposit from specific tenants or evicting someone for any reason other than the one that would lead you to evict another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

FFHA violations can have serious repercussions. 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. Informants who violated the Fair Housing Act within the previous five years could be fined up to $54,157, and respondents who violated the Act twice or more within the previous seven years could be fined up to $108,315. Make sure that your applicant screening procedure does not discriminate against any applicants just to avoid these penalties. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

It’s crucial to have a clear set of guidelines for every interaction with prospective or current tenants to guarantee that your screening process is both thorough and legal. 

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 should make it a priority to explain your approval criteria and expectations during this 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 prospective tenants questions about their ancestry, race, or nationality. The same holds true 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. Reviewing your screening process for any possible form of discrimination is also vital. As an example, Homestead property managers should accept applications and conduct tenant screenings in the order they are received. Discrimination happens when an application is gathered and then kept on hold while you wait for someone else to apply. You should move ahead with the screening process for an applicant when all of their application forms are submitted and they have paid the necessary fees. It is appropriate to disqualify an applicant based on predetermined criteria, such as a low credit score or inadequate references. But it is not right to make an applicant wait for a response while hoping that another applicant will qualify. 

Know and Follow the Law. Lastly, every property owner should be aware of the local laws regarding renting to people with a criminal record. Not all criminal violations are sufficient grounds to refuse to rent to a person, so it is essential to understand which ones are and to change your tenant screening process appropriately. 

The tenant screening process ought not to be biased against any specific applicant when you are aware of the local and federal laws that apply to it and you follow them. This will assist you in avoiding any penalties or legal action, as well as help your community by offering 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 Dade a call at 305-501-1511 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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