Navigating Tenant Screening: Balancing Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

Securing an ideal tenant for a rental property can be a meticulous task. The goal is clear: landlords aim to identify individuals who will maintain their property, ensure timely rent payments, and respect others within the community. Tenant background checks have become an essential tool to determine risk levels. However, landlords should understand the limitations of these checks. They are fundamental to maintaining legal and ethical standards.

What You Can Search For

In the process of vetting potential tenants, there are distinct elements of information that landlords can explore:

  • Credit Profile: Offers insights into the tenant’s fiscal reliability, though income discrimination cannot be the basis upon which a tenant is refused an apartment.
  • Criminal Records: Assesses safety concerns related to the property and surrounding area.
  • Eviction Records: Past evictions can raise concerns, though the use of so called “tenant blacklists” is violative of the HSTPA.
  • Work History: Validates the tenant’s financial capacity to pay rent.
  • Past Rentals: Previous tenancy behaviors can hint at future interactions.
  • Referrals: Inputs from earlier landlords or known references can be enlightening.

Setting the Boundaries

There are explicit constraints to adhere to. Various federal and state legislations mandate non-discrimination based on specific attributes. Landlords should abstain from decision-making based on the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Country of origin
  • Gender
  • Sexual preference
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Physical challenges
  • Family composition

Process of Tenant Checks

A common approach is to engage professional firms focusing on tenant screening. They generally have access to expansive databases and can provide landlords with a comprehensive overview of an applicant’s history. If you choose to work with a third party for your tenant screenings, you should ask them how they comply with the laws and regulations we outlined in the previous sections. 

After you receive the report, approach the findings with a balanced view. An isolated negative detail shouldn’t be a decisive factor. Weigh the complete report, and if something unfavorable surfaces, evaluate it against the tenant’s explanation. If an application gets declined due to a background check, the reason must be communicated to the applicant in a written format.

Guiding Principles: Ethics and Law

Tenant screening involves ethical and legal considerations:

  • Confidentiality: Uphold the tenant’s privacy by gathering what’s essential and ensuring its confidentiality.
  • Impartiality: Every applicant deserves a level playing field. Discriminating based on specific attributes is both ethically and legally unacceptable.
  • Authenticity: It’s essential to confirm the accuracy and relevance of the collected data.

Landlords must understand and comply with legal requirements such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Additionally, additional requirements may exist depending on where your rental properties are. While tenant background checks offer invaluable insights, they come with inherent responsibilities. Before initiating these checks, landlords must be well-versed with the relevant regulations and uphold the highest ethical standards.

Contact Drucker & Mattia, PLLC

For individuals navigating tenant screening complexities and related property affairs, know this: The advantage of having an attorney cannot be understated. Drucker & Mattia, PLLC combines the experience of a large legal establishment with the intimacy of a boutique firm. When you work with us, you get to speak and work alongside an attorney who will get to know you and your case. We value direct conversations over automated responses. Set up your complimentary consultation with Drucker & Mattia, PLLC, today.

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