Am I Discriminating When I Prequalify Tenants?

by Chris on August 22, 2011

Q:  In reference to your previous blog post The Right Way to Reject the Wrong Tenant, isn’t the act of “discouraging” applicants with a prequalifying phone call also discriminatory? Or is it easier to defend since the applicant hasn’t submitted a rental application yet? – TVS Landlord

Landlords can be guilty of discrimination at any stage of the rental process–from the rental ad itself to the prequalifying phone call, and even after the applicant becomes a tenant.  It is not any easier to defend discrimination if the applicant has not submitted a rental application

But prequalifying tenants in and of itself is not discriminatory.  A landlord has the right to weed out applicants who will not be appropriate for the property. It is important, however, to prequalify based on legitimate rental policies and to apply those standards to every applicant. 

Landlords often feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to interactions with applicants who later may accuse them of discrimination.  As a result, they can fail to get the information they need to make a good decision.  The strategy of simply allowing everyone to fill out a rental application without prequalifying applicants doesn’t help, and it creates more work for the landlord.

The best tactic is to focus questions on the individual’s ability to pay rent, and a good rental history, rather than reacting to what the candidate sounds like or looks like.

It is not discriminatory to disclose that you will require a tenant background check in order to verify a good credit history,  (ability to pay rent) and talk with the previous landlords to confirm a good rental history. It is also appropriate to disclose to the applicant your other rental requirements like no smoking, pet restrictions, noise curfews or length of lease, and get the applicant’s commitment to follow those rules.

Deviating from the script for a prequalifying phone call can be where the trouble starts for a landlord. It is critical to treat everyone the same so that each qualified applicant has an equal chance at finding a rental home.  When you waiver on your rental policies for an applicant with whom you have some rapport, you must be prepared to do so with every applicant. 

For instance, imagine that your advertised rent is $900, but the “nice” guy on the phone tells you he can only pay $850.  If you entertain the notion that you’ll offer the property to him for less, but later discourage the single mother or the applicant on government assistance who can only pay $850, that’ll likely be viewed as unfair. 

 

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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