The Right Way to Reject a Rental Applicant

by Chris on January 14, 2013

by Marv Steier

Landlords often have questions about non-discriminatory ways to reject an applicant who is not an appropriate tenant. It’s a fine line that landlords walk when interviewing an applicant or writing a rental ad to ensure it doesn’t appear to be discriminatory, and oftentimes landlords are unclear about how to proceed. So let’s attempt to clarify some things here.

As landlords we have to do what is reasonable and non-discriminatory, yet still avoid bad tenants that result in income loss.  Do the research if you are not sure about what constitutes rental housing discrimination in your area.

We know that landlords can’t discriminate based on certain elements.

Generally, race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, having children,  age, disability or being on government assistance are areas protected by discrimination laws, so  interview questions on these topics are problematic.

So, what can a landlord do to prevent renting to a bad tenant where discrimination might become an issue? Several non-discriminatory rejections come to mind:

“I am reviewing other rental applications, and will let you know within 24 hrs if you are the successful candidate.”

Landlords should always accept more than one rental application for a rental and be able to produce other rental applications if required to do so.

“You did did not meet my criteria.”

What is your criteria? Every landlord should have a checklist and treat every applicant the same. However if asked by an applicant, “What is your criteria?” I would just repeat, “You did not meet my criteria.” In my opinion, you do not have to get into specifics with an applicant. I wouldn’t.

Some criteria on the checklist, however, might be:

The applicant didn’t seem to take seriously the responsibilities in the lease agreement.

The applicant was argumentative about some of the responsibilities in the lease agreement.

The applicant did not appear well-groomed.

I didn’t like the noisy vehicle that applicant drove or the manner in which he left — speeding away in a noisy vehicle.

Was the rental application completed in its entirety? No? That might be on the list of criteria. The TVS Rental Application clearly states, “This application must be completed in its entirety.” A tenant who leaves blanks can’t/ doesn’t/ won’t follow instructions.

Ask yourself, What am I looking for in a model tenant? Make a list, use it for every applicant. As a landlord you don’t have to rent to an individual if you don’t want to — AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT DENYING RENT BASED ON  HUMAN RIGHTS DISCRIMINATION.

Common sense, being reasonable, choosing tenants wisely, making notes on each rental application each help to alleviate a discrimination issue, and are all part of protecting your investment.

We should be able to avoid issues of discrimination by being reasonable. As an employer and a landlord, I often blame myself for the situation for letting employees go or for not renting to individuals. For example:

“You would be better suited in another line of work; I don’t think this type of office environment really suits you,” or,

“As a landlord who has a huge investment in this rental property, I like to do an inspection every 6 weeks, to ensure that there is a high standard of cleanliness in-order to avoid potential problems like insects, rodents, mold, allergies, etc. Maintaining the rental unit to my standards is a big task. I don’t think that we are suited for each other in this instance and it is probably best that you find a landlord who is a little more lenient or lax with that.”

Your tenant may counter, “But, I would keep it really, really clean!”

Tell them, “Well, I am interviewing other applicants and I will let you know within 24 hours.”

The point is you have to become innovative in a smart way. In a way that doesn’t discriminate, but gives you an out with tenants that you don’t want to rent to.

REMEMBER THIS: Make tons of notes on each application refusal. If during the interview/application process you conduct yourself in a reasonable manner, you will minimize your risk in avoiding any type of discrimination complaint against you.

Here is an idea for the typical landlord who let’s say doesn’t accept more than 3-5 rental applications per rental and has only a few rentals. Offer a $5.00 Starbucks card to each applicant and say “I appreciate your taking the time to complete a rental application for me. This is a small thank you for doing that.”

If anyone has any other comments, I’d love to hear them. This is, in my opinion, a common sense approach to choosing tenants wisely. Sometimes you have to be creative when rejecting an applicant without getting into trouble or being seen as discriminatory. Rejecting a tenant based solely on bad credit or a criminal record, in my opinion, is not a good idea because it leaves too much room for a dispute or argument. As a landlord, I look to reject an applicant based on non-disputable criteria, such as is noted above.

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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary January 15, 2013 at 7:45 am

I have not had to use this, however, how is this idea? If you think the applicant will not be appropriate you can always say you promised yourself to collect applicants for the week or month to ensure you found the best suited applicant; or you promised others to show them the place next weekend. The delay will give the applicant the opportunity to find something else – not your place.

Dick Veerman (Gilmar Management Ltd) January 17, 2013 at 2:05 am

Hi Chris,

I have a situation that is getting worse. So far I have been able to avoid the problem by being very non-committal.

As a bit of a background: We are the first apartment building on the street. We face the park. There are two more apartment buildings on our side of the street, both adjacent and downhill from us.
Both of these places do NOT screen tenants and as a result we have had problems, even a few of my tenants threatening to leave, if I don’t solve the problems with the building right next to us. There is no (qualified!!) manager in that building and the tenant in there who functions as the Manager has NO IDEA on how to manage a building.

In one of the two buildings below us live a mother an her daughter. I have never met the Mother, but the daughter (estimated to be between 38 and 43 years old) has been “buzzing” me numerous times in the last year or two. I am not even close to knowledgeable about mental illness. But this woman displays all the signs of being mentally ill. The first time I met her about two years ago, I let her into the building and kept her in the lobby. She talked incessantly, spouting all sorts of nonsense. She was then looking for a one bedroom suite for herself to “get away” from her mother. I asked her about her income and she said that she was on Government help. When she told me what she was receiving and I told her that that was nowhere near enough to pay the rent and her other expenses, she said that she could get written, signed letters from friends and relatives who would financially support her. At that time I managed to get rid of her, stating that I was considering other applicants. After that first encounter, I learned from two other of my tenants, that she had been telling them that I was in Love with her and that I would certainly give her an apartment. I was horrified!!!! Since, she has appeared often in the bottom of the park in front of our building, just sitting on the grass or the side-walk and talking incessantly and very loudly on a cell-phone(???). Several of my tenants have run into this woman as well and told me, that if she is ever allowed in here, they will leave. (“The woman is nuts”)
Recently this woman has increased the pace of trying to get into the building and just last week, a long term, good tenant let her into the building and came to my door and said that a person I know is in the Lobby and wants to talk to me.
I almost choked when I saw who it was!!!
She was now asking for a two bedroom suite, because her Mother, she said wants to move as well. I lied to her and said that the suite advertised had another applicant and will be gone soon. She said that she would be back once a week to see what was available, because she said: “I have rights, you know!!”

I know I can’t flagrantly discriminate, but how do I keep this woman away from me?

She told another of my tenants during the summer that I was her boy-friend!!!!! However, that tenant also has moved away and would not put anything in writing anyway.

I am tempted to call the Police the next time this woman shows up and accuse her of trespassing or whatever the Cops will accept. The Police is always at the two buildings below us (last time with guns drawn!!!), so they may know this woman.

I will NOT allow this person in my building, but I know with all the so-called political correctness NONSENSE and the current laws against discrimination, I am at a BAD disadvantage. My present tenants will always come first!! We have a stable, well balanced population in our building and I do not want to upset the present situation.

Please give me some suggestions to PERMANENTLY discourage this woman from ever approaching me again.

Someone suggested to take an application from her, even accept letters from supposed financial supporters, and then just flatly turn her down.

This woman will be disruptive, she will be at my door constantly and I should not have to put up with her statements that she is “In Love with me and that I am her boyfriend. Considering our current legislation on the books, it would create a “No-Win” situation for me (I am also 68 years old!!!!!!!!!). Who knows what kind of accusations would fly, if I reject her as a “boyfriend”, once I let her and her Mother move in!!!

Please help!!!

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