Landlord Asking the Wrong Questions

by Chris on February 3, 2020

“You don’t have to answer that.”

That’s the advice given to a tenant after she showed a landlord’s rental application to a legal services volunteer.

And for good reason. The landlord asked applicants to identify if they were alcoholics. Another question asks applicants to describe their familial relationships with proposed occupants. And rather than asking tenants how they intend to pay for rent, the application asks prospective renters whether they receive any form of government assistance.

Probing an applicant’s past alcohol or drug use is prohibited because an addiction problem is considered a disability under the Human Rights Code. Landlords can’t ask an applicant to disclose a disability and cannot reject an applicant because of a disability.

The same is true of asking tenants to reveal personal details about family relationships — how many children, married or not married, and so on. Rejecting applicants on that information is discriminatory.

Aside from the income loss caused by Human Rights violations, an application with inappropriate or illegal questions is a long-term problem for landlords because:

The landlord may have good reason to reject the applicant, but if illegal information was obtained, it is difficult to prove the landlord’s motive;

The tenant hears someone say, “You don’t have to answer that.” Illegal questions encourage incomplete applications. Rejecting a tenant who fails to answer illegal questions still could give rise to a claim of discrimination. What’s more, the tenant may feel justified in falsifying answers, so the landlord cannot adequately screen this applicant; and,

The landlord is not obtaining information needed to qualify the tenant. What matters is the individual’s ability and willingness to pay rent, and a good rental history.

Questions like “Are you an alcoholic?” or “Are you married?” cannot be used to judge a person’s character. Knowing this information doesn’t make it any easier to determine whether an applicant is high-risk. Landlords don’t need to work that hard. Stick to the relevant information:

Verify identity with a photo ID;
Sufficient income (from any source) to pay the rent;
A willingness to follow the house rules, like no smoking;
A good rental history; and
Creditworthiness — a history of paying bills on time.

The rental application should only include questions that go to these qualifications so that the landlord can demand that every question be answered. That way, it’s easier to flag a scammer rather than an applicant who has been advised not to answer.

Additional tips:

Don’t go off script when prequalifying applicants or in conversation. It is easy to discriminate with idle talk like “Where are you from?”;

It’s important to use a vetted application and to use the same application each time;

Don’t use applications discovered online or tailored to a different province;

Don’t allow tenants to access applications prior to prequalifying the applicant and meeting in person to verify the person’s identity with a photo ID; and,

Avoid using applications prepared by third-party vendors, like advertising platforms.

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 is 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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