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Tenant Screening – Make Sure You’re Not Discriminating

Close Up View of a McKees Rocks Rental Property ApplicationTenant screening is a crucial aspect of owning prosperous McKees Rocks rental properties. Though it may appear simple, the process occasionally isn’t. 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. Right from the first conversation, they protect tenants and prospective tenants. Due diligence must be taken in your tenant screening to avoid discrimination, in addition to being thorough. Avoiding discrimination will help you keep your process fair and in line with all applicable laws while also preventing potentially costly lawsuits. 

Fair Housing Act 

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) is the most crucial federal law regarding discrimination that property owners should comprehend. The act addresses all tenant-landlord interactions. According to the FFHA, landlords cannot reject a tenant based on their race, sex, religion, family background, or disability, to name a few. In addition, the FFHA prohibits landlords from distorting the selection of a rental property or requiring certain tenants to meet stricter criteria. 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. Applicants could be fined a maximum of $54,157 for violations of the Fair Housing Act committed within the previous five years, and a maximum of $108,315 for violations committed twice or more within the previous seven years. The fact that your screening procedure shouldn’t exclude any applicants is a good enough reason in and of itself to avoid these penalties. 

Strategies for Legal Tenant Screening 

To ensure that your screening process is both detailed and legal, it is necessary to have specific guidelines for all interactions with current and future tenants. 

Clarify Approval Criteria. Since tenant screening begins with the very first conversation you have with a prospective tenant, it is essential to take precautions to maintain FFHA compliance. You should emphasize outlining your approval standards and expectations during that initial conversation. 

Avoid Illegal Questions. Be cautious when conducting the tenant screening process to avoid requesting protected information from your tenant. Usually, it is inappropriate to ask questions during the tenant screening process about ancestry, race, or national origin. The same applies to questions regarding disability and family status. Such queries shouldn’t be included in your application documents, and you should steer clear of them in conversation unless the tenant mentions them. 

Examine Your Approval Process. It is also critical to review your screening process for any other likely forms of discrimination. As a rule, for example, McKees Rocks property managers should generally accept applications and carry out tenant screenings in the order they are received. It is discrimination to receive an application but then wait for another applicant to apply before reviewing it. 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. However, making an applicant wait for a response while you wait for someone else to meet the requirements is not. 

Know and Follow the Law. Last but not least, every landlord should be fully aware of the local regulations governing renting to people with a criminal record. Understanding what they are and modifying your tenant screening procedure accordingly is vital because not all criminal offenses are considered good enough grounds to deny a tenant a rental. 

Your tenant screening process shouldn’t discriminate against any particular applicant if you are aware of the local and federal laws that apply to it and you follow them. This will save you from fines and lawsuits and ensure that your community has access to fair housing. 

Do you need some advice on managing your property, or would you prefer to have someone else handle everything? Call Real Property Management Keystone at 412-385-2300 or contact us online straightaway!  

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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