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What you CAN ask a Rental Applicant According to Fair Housing

As a landlord, you want to carefully screen your potential residents. After all, there is a lot on the line for you. Unqualified residents can damage your property and cost you time and money. But residents also need protection from landlords who may discriminate against them based on factors that are not really relevant to the terms of the lease. The Fair Housing Act protects residents and sets legal boundaries for what information landlords have access to as they screen potential residents.

Here are some tips about what questions property management companies typically ask in your screening process as they look at new residents for your property:

Acceptable Questions to Ask:

Residents to Be on the Lease

You definitely want to ask who will be living on your property. You want to make sure you have information on the number of people living on the premises and who they are. You have a right to reasonably limit the number of people who reside at the location but you can’t make that number so low that it would discriminate against families with children.

Income and Credit

We always ask your applicants for information about their income and credit. This is just for your protection. You want to make sure your residents are not carrying too much debt and make enough money to afford the lease.

You can run a credit report and ask for bank statements and pay stubs. You can’t require this information from your applicants; they can refuse to provide this information. But you have the right to ask for it. And, you can deny applications because of an apparent inability to afford the lease.

Background Checks

You can ask for references from previous landlords (just be careful about what you ask. Stick to the questions you would ask the resident). This can help demonstrate the new residents will be responsible and good neighbors. You can also conduct a criminal background check on your applicants. Remember: Whatever checks you do on one applicant, you must do to another to avoid discrimination.

The Circumstances of the Move

You can ask potential residents about why they are moving and when they want to move in. Listen for people who have had bad relationships with landlords in the past. People who have to move in immediately may have been evicted from their previous home. Other people may have had a sudden job offer and needed to move. Again, applicants don’t have to provide this information, but you can ask these questions because they are not discriminatory and they will provide relevant information.

Above all, Be Consistent in Your Questions

To avoid any suspicion of discrimination, you should be sure to ask the same questions of every applicant. Property managers typically use standardized application that asks legal questions to get the information you need without violating any laws. And since you asked everyone the same questions, you are above reproach when it comes to charges of discrimination.

Questions You Can’t Ask

Obviously, there are some questions you can’t ask to screen your potential residents. You can’t ask questions about race, religion national origin, disabilities, gender or familial status. Asking these sorts of questions could be deemed discriminatory and against the law.

A consistent and fair applicant screening process is essential to finding good residents for your property. With a bit of work, it is possible to put together a good screening process on your own. But this is an area where an experienced property manager can really help.

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