You may notice that we talk a lot about fair housing laws on this blog. There’s a good reason for that: violating the fair housing laws is a BIG deal, with BIG penalties. Making sure that you follow fair housing laws is one of the most important aspects of being a landlord.
With that in mind, we want to talk a bit in this article about standardizing the tenant screening process to avoid fair housing issues. For those not familiar, the term “fair housing” basically means not discriminating against people who fit into any of the government’s protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability.
Keep in mind that some of these terms can be broad. For example, “sex” has been interpreted by many to include sexual orientation and gender identity. There isn’t always clear guidance from HUD on what exactly these terms all encompass, so it’s always better to be broad yourself in how you define them. Even though the law doesn’t specifically state that sexual orientation is protected, be on the safe side and never discriminate on this basis, and then you don’t have to worry about it. After all, someone’s sexual orientation isn’t going to affect whether they can pay you the rent or not, so why worry about it?
Now that we know what fair housing is and what sort of violations we’re avoiding, how do we put in place a process that protects us and ensures that all applicants are being treated fairly? The best thing to do is to put down a list of objective criteria that every applicant has to meet in order to qualify to rent your property. For example, a minimum credit score, a minimum income as a multiple of the rent, no history of unpaid debts to landlords, etc. Make sure that EVERY applicant is scored using these same criteria, and no exceptions are made because you just “have a bad feeling” about an individual applicant. Those sorts of subjective impressions getting involved in the screening process are what HUD and trial attorneys will look for. If EVERY applicant has to meet the same criteria, and those criteria have nothing to do with any of the protected classes in the law, then you can be certain that you’re complying with the law, being fair to everyone, and keeping yourself out of trouble.
If you hire our company to manage your property, all of this will be taken care of for you. So give us a call to take this burden off of your own shoulders.