The Right Way to Reject the Wrong Tenant

by Chris on August 8, 2011

Q:  I have a rental applicant who is disabled, and on government assistance. I am convinced he has the ability to pay rent, and I don’t want to have to reject him, but his rental history is causing me great concern.  On average, he only stays two or three months then moves out because he’s unhappy. I need to rent my units out long-term, and I’m afraid he’s just not the type of tenant who will stick around.

Can I reject him because of that, or would that be discrimination?  How do I explain to him the reason for the rejection?

This is one of the most common questions landlords have regarding discrimination, and for good reason. 

There is an underlying concern that anytime an applicant falls into a protected class — here both disability and possibly source of income, the landlord must rent to the applicant or face a charge of discrimination.

The other concern is that it can be difficult to determine if the landlord’s actions are, in fact, discriminatory, even though that is not the landlord’s intent.

Blatant discrimination is easy to identify–telling certain people that they can’t rent the unit.  But some rental policies can have the unintended impact of discriminating. One way to tell if the policy is bad is to look at the group of applicants who are being rejected.

For instance, you state you have a rental policy for long-term tenants. If you reject all applicants who only want short-term commitments or have poor rental histories, is that pool of rejected candidates largely disabled, on government assistance, or some other protected class?  On the other hand, if the rejected group is diverse–like students, professionals who travel frequently, or couples renting while they remodel their homes, then it would not appear that your policy is discriminatory.

With that in mind, it is important to always apply rental policies consistently with every applicant.  If you reject this gentleman due to the length of the lease, but allow another applicant–like the couple renting while they remodel, to lease the property short-term, then you are not playing fair.

Your long-term policy seems reasonable because you don’t want to incur the costs of re-leasing the property more frequently than necessary, or risk a prolonged vacancy while you look for another tenant.  If you do not want to bend that policy for this applicant, then you can reject him. 

You can simply explain to the applicant that he did not meet your rental criteria.  You do not have to include an adverse action notice in a rejection letter because the negative information came from the applicant himself, not from a consumer report.

In the future, it would be helpful if you include your long-term lease requirement in any rental ads, and then prequalify all rental applicants over the phone before you have them fill out a rental application.  This will discourage the wrong applicants in the first place.

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).

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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.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Cahalan August 9, 2011 at 9:28 am

Thanks for excellent advice. Many times what I would think normally acceptable could be construed somehow biased by someone. This political correctness issue can be bent in many different directions based upon the viewers own agenda. Great help, thanks again.

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