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.
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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.