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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a Burlington Rental Property Application

Tenant screening is a vital component of successfully managing Burlington rental properties. However, the process is not always as straightforward as it may appear. There are numerous ways that your screening procedure could violate local or national landlord laws. These rules are made to protect protected renter classes from potential discrimination and to provide livable housing. From the very first conversation, they safeguard current and prospective tenants. To avoid discrimination, it is crucial to make sure that your tenant screening is both thorough and free of bias. 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. All interactions between tenants and landlords are covered by the act. The FFHA prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on, along with other factors, their race, sex, religion, family status, or disability. The FFHA also forbids landlords from misrepresenting the availability of a rental home or imposing stricter requirements on particular tenants. This includes needing a larger security deposit from specific tenants or evicting a tenant for a reason that would not lead to the eviction of another tenant. 

Penalties for Discrimination 

There are major consequences for violating FFHA. For their first offense of the Fair Housing Act, a property owner, for instance, could be hit with a maximum civil penalty of $21,663. Persons who infringed the Fair Housing Act in the previous five years could be fined up to $54,157, and respondents who breached the Act twice or more in the previous seven years could be charged up to a maximum of $108,315. Avoiding these penalties is sufficient justification for ensuring that your applicant screening process is not discriminatory. 

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 necessary to take measures to keep everything FFHA-compliant because tenant screening commences with the very first meeting you have with someone searching to apply for your rental property. You should make it a priority to explain your approval criteria and expectations during this initial conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Throughout the tenant screening process, avoid asking questions that could compel a tenant to disclose confidential information. During tenant screening, questions regarding heredity, race, or national origin are typically improper. The same stands true for queries concerning disability or family status. These inquiries should not be seen on your application forms and must be avoided during the conversation except when the tenant brings them up. 

Examine Your Approval Process. Reviewing your screening process for any possible form of discrimination is also vital. As an example, Burlington property managers should accept applications and conduct tenant screenings in the order they are received. It is discrimination to collect and then sit on an application because you are waiting for another person to apply. If an applicant has already paid the amounts required and forwarded complete application materials, you should proceed with the screening process. It’s okay to disqualify an applicant based on predetermined standards, such as a poor credit score or unflattering references. It’s not acceptable to delay a response while you wait for someone else to meet the requirements, though. 

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 aid you in avoiding any fines or legal action, as well as assist in offering your neighborhood 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 Sterling a call at 802-861-6468 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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