Tenant Screening: A Legal Overview

While it is important to screen your tenants carefully to avoid mishaps and uncomfortable circumstances, you also have to be careful not to break any discrimination laws when conducting your search for the perfect renter.

  • Tuesday, November 18, 2014

  General   Legal   Tenant Screening   FCRA   Fair Housing Act   Contributing Editorial   

While it is important to screen your tenants carefully to avoid mishaps and uncomfortable circumstances, you also have to be careful not to break any discrimination laws when conducting your search for the perfect renter.

While it is your property, the purpose of it is to become an investment, and your main focus should be to have the property rented and maintained by a tenant who respects the home and their landlord.

Here are a few things that you need to look out for when searching for an ideal tenant:

Marital Status or Children

Landlords and property managers are not allowed to deny a rental property to someone based on their age or marital status. You also can’t turn a tenant away because they are pregnant.

According to the Fair Housing Act, you may not discriminate against anyone because they have children, or may have children while renting from you. This includes reducing the tenancy to a 2 person limit, as it excludes families with children. Generally, when listing a minimum occupancy for a property, landlords must allow for 2 people per bedroom.

However, if the reason for listing a minimum occupancy is due to the effect it will have on the structure or plumbing of the property, a landlord may limit the number of occupants—as long as they have the paperwork to back up their claim.


In terms of disability, a landlord may screen a tenant based on their financial stability and rental history, and not their physical, mental, or emotional ailments.

It’s up to the landlord to accommodate small changes in rules or services to make the life of the tenant more comfortable. This would mean allowing the tenant to have a service dog in a building that does not allow pets or other animals. The landlord is not responsible for making large-scale changes, such as adding an elevator or extensively renovating the apartment.

The tenant must complete, and pay for, any interior upgrades that will help them to live in the rental space. This means that although the landlord must attempt to accommodate the needs of the tenant, the tenant is still responsible for making their own space suitable and comfortable.

Gender or Age

While choosing a tenant, you may not disqualify them from the rental process based on their age or gender.

Even though you may have good intentions, such as preferring a male to live in your rental because of the area or the history of the property, you may not bar a female from living there.

In terms of age, as long as a tenant can show that they are financially sound and responsible, with a good history as a tenant, you must consider them as a potential tenant.

Race or Religion

You cannot choose or avoid a certain tenant because of their race, religion, or national origin. In some states, it’s even illegal to ask about a tenant’s immigration status.

In Conclusion

All in all, you should decide whether a tenant is suitable based on their ability to pay rent and to adhere to the property rules and limitations. To increase the number of interested renters, have an open house and request that anyone who wishes to rent the property fill out a rental application.

This will allow you to obtain basic information regarding the tenant, such as their credit history (if they provide a social security number) that will help you to decide whether a tenant will be suitable for the property or not.

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