Tenant screening is the most critical component of property management. Selecting a wrong tenant could be the difference between a positive cash flow for a long time or court date and eviction proceedings! So, you should not treat tenant screening as casual conversation between 2 parties who might reach a rental agreement. In fact, federal guidelines prohibit asking questions about certain topics from tenants since they have been the source of housing discrimination. Tenant screening topics and questions which are illegal to ask are:
1) Race: You are not allowed to discuss or question an applicants race during tenant screening. As Americans we are a casual bunch and might feel comfortable to ask someone where they are from, but that kind of casual conversation could bring you a lot of unwanted attention. Asking if your tenant is of Chinese, Greek or Turkish decent might sound like harmless, but they are illegal for tenant screening.
2) Religion : With US planning on attacking Syrian any minute, the topic of religion turmoil is fresh on everyone’s mind. But this topic does not belong in tenant screening. If you want to rant and rave about why Washington should not attack a Muslim nation, you should call your representatives in Congress or Senate and leave your tenant out of it. allowed to discuss religion with your tenant.
3) Color: Stephen Colbert jokes that with the election of President Obama, racism is over! It must be safe then to discuss your tenants color during your interview, right!? Wrong. Just like religion, this topic does not belong in tenant screening interview. Color of your tenant is inappropriate discussion and is illegal.
4) Sex: We are all shaped by our experiences with tenants of different sex. But that does not mean you could make statements like “I always like to rent to men since they are more handy”! These kind of statements do not belong in tenant screening and should be avoided.
5) National Origins: “where are you from” might be an innocent sounding question for a cocktail party conversation, but it not belong in a tenant screening conversation. Don’t ever ask your tenant about their national origin since it has nothing to do with the fact that they will pay their rent on time and won’t damage the property. Topics above are off limits for good reason since they do not establish any indication whether this person will keep your property clean and pay his/her rent on time! The applicants you reject can seek remedy in US Federal court based on Housing Discrimination claims if their Race,
Religion, Color or National origin was a topic of a conversation during your tenant screening. Department of Fair Housing has some more information about these topics, but we are convinced that complicated housing laws are enough justification to hire a property manager.
How do you screen your tenants?! What questions do you ask!? We would love to hear from you.