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It’s a landlord's responsibility to screen people to avoid having risky tenants. Asking questions is an important step in the screening process. There are also limitations as to which questions are appropriate or not.
So why are there limits to the questions that a landlord should ask during the screening process? The reason is that tenants are protected by civil rights laws against discrimination.
An example of those laws is the Federal Fair Housing Act. Any violation of the law and its likeness is subjectable for a lawsuit against a landlord and his business regardless of intention and the nature of the questioning. The landlord must be fair and professional in asking questions during the screening process.
What are those screening questions that you as a landlord should avoid? Let us take a look at some below.
Any questions or remarks within the context of race should not be made. That includes topics regarding country, skin color, language, or nationality. Questions made in a subtle way or by an act of friendly gesture can be misunderstood and considered as an act of discrimination. Even if you asked what country your tenant’s great-grandparents came from, the question will be viewed with racist intentions. It is advisable to wait for your potential tenant to open up first.
Gender, sexuality or the likes are also among the list of issues that shouldn't be brought up. Stay off questions and remarks that are sexist in context. If you ask questions or make comments that are sexual or include gender in nature, they will be seen as sexist and will violate the Federal Fair Housing Law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability in any way. No tenant should be denied services or accommodation because of a disability. It doesn't matter if the disability is mental, emotional or physical. On rented property situations, the ADA civil rights law is in strict effect. Queries or remarks made based on the context of disabilities are grounds for a lawsuit. It is best to avoid such a situation altogether.
Asking questions to your tenant about their familial status violates fair housing laws. Another violation is denying accommodations due to parental conditions. If you deny a potential tenant because they have kids or are married, this will spell trouble. Also, don't ask questions that are too personal such as marital status and age. Have tenants answer this in the rental application form.
A valid reason to deny potential tenants is unspent convictions. This means that the tenant is still serving under sentence. Asking for arrest records is a clear violation of the fair housing law. If the tenant has served conviction then there is no reason to deny services. Be sure to check criminal records and consider seeking legal advice during the background screening process.
The Federal Fair Housing Law includes religion under its protection for fair housing. No discrimination should be made based on a potential tenant’s religion.
To be a fair landlord, you should not discriminate and deny services to a tenant for personal reasons and preferences. As long as a tenant has a clean and good record, there is no reason for you to shut your doors to them or ask questions about their personal lives. There are acceptable reasons to deny accommodation. Know the law and hire a legal adviser to make sound decisions.
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