Screening potential tenants is a necessary process to ensure tenants can pay their rent and are respectful of your property. Making a bad tenant choice upfront can lead to big headaches and potentially large repair bills.
When screening potential tenants, it’s important to make sure that you ask the right questions and those that do not violate the Fair Housing Act, which is intended to ensure equal treatment for applicants.
Questions you should ask prospective tenants:
Income and Employment:
First and foremost, you want to make sure that your tenant can pay the rent. Asking questions regarding income and employment is standard practice. When screening military members you can ask for their Military ID as proof of employment. Military members also receive a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) that is intended to cover 97% of the average rent in the installation area.
Number of Adults Applying
To ensure compliance with local occupancy guidelines you want to know how many adults will be living in the rental. If there are several tenants over 18, you may require all tenants to be included in the lease agreement. However, you must be careful not to ask the prospective tenant about their marital/family status or if they have children, which violates the Fair Housing Act.
Background and Credit Checks
You can run background and credit checks on potential tenants with their permission. You can include a credit check approval section on your rental application or have a separate form, either way the prospect must agree to the credit check and it’s best to have this in writing.
Questions you should not ask prospective tenants:
Questions that violate the Fair Housing Act.
As a landlord or property manager, you should have a clear understanding of the Fair Housing Act. Knowing what is and is not allowed when screening prospective tenants is critical to your business. If you are unsure of any provision within the Fair Housing Act, review the Fair Housing Act provisions and/or seek legal counsel. Per the Fair Housing Act, a landlord may not refuse housing based on the following protected classes:
- Race or color.
- National origin.
- Disability or handicap, including physical and mental impairment.
- Sex, including sexual harassment.
- Familial status (includes protection for people with children under age 18 or pregnant women).
Questions regarding an applicant’s arrest record.
Do not ask questions about an applicant’s arrest record. However, you can/should ask whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. If you run a background check, this information will typically be included in the report. Asking the applicant upfront gives them an opportunity to explain any convictions and is a check as to whether they are being truthful with you, since you will most likely uncover this information in a background check.
Don’t run selective background checks.
If you use background checks to screen tenants, make sure that you run checks on all prospective tenants. If you only run background checks on select prospects, this could be considered a discriminatory practice.
As a landlord/property manager having good tenants makes your life much easier. Make sure that your tenant screening process finds good tenants and abides by the Fair Housing Act.