Residential Tenant Screening and Selection

Legal Compliance Resource
January 17, 2014 — 1,288 views  

Residential tenant screening can be an incredibly tough job as you would want to make sure that you get the best tenant to rent your property. As a result, it is quite natural to feel like asking them a lot of questions before renting the property. However, when screening and selecting these tenants, you need to be extremely careful as there are plenty of questions that you are not allowed to legally ask your prospective tenants. Similarly, the tenants would also be looking forward to rent a property with a good landlord and it is quite natural for them also to have plenty of questions for you. You are also legally obligated to provide them with a lot of information and there are certain aspects that could be kept private. Here is what you need to know about all of these questions so you can conduct a thorough residential tenant screening.

Questions to Avoid When Screening a Prospective Tenant

When screening tenants it is very important to make sure that you adhere to all the fair housing laws when asking your prospective tenants any question. You should never ask a question or even suggest anything that could be interpreted as discriminatory in nature under the Federal Fair Housing Law or the Fair Housing Laws of the State. This includes questions pertaining to their race, religion, nationality, gender, familial status and any disabilities. Some states even include sexual orientation under this act. You are entitled to know if your tenant has been convicted of any crime. However, that doesn't mean you can ask if the prospective tenant has ever been arrested. You should always remember that there is a huge difference between being arrested and getting convicted of a crime.

However, it is better not to ask this question at all as this can be reflected in a background check--many states have laws against discrimination based on the tenant's criminal record, except in cases that could influence the person's ability to remain a good tenant such as a history of violence or drug convictions. In addition to this, you must also refrain from asking any questions that are not a part of your standards of qualifications for the tenants. When you do this, you would be following an exact procedure for all tenants, and leave no scope for any discrimination.

What You Need to Disclose?

During the residential tenant screening process, your tenants may also have some questions for you and you are obligated to answer some of the questions your tenants may ask as well as keep some details private. You may require to disclose certain details such as what you would be doing with the deposit. Whether you would be returning the deposit with the interest and how you intend to use it, etc. You are also obligated to inform the tenant of any non-refundable fees wherever applicable. You must also provide the tenant a checklist with details of property damage prior to moving in.

The tenant must also be provided the right to be present during an inspection, information regarding the sharing of utility bills, installation and maintenance of smoke alarms, details pertaining to rent control rules, presence of any form of health and environmental hazards near the property and so on. You may also need to make sure that all disclosures listed under federal and local landlord disclosure laws have been met along with the disclosures related to the rental property.

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