A landlord recently took a novel approach to filling a vacancy. Rather than use a rental application, this landlord decided to leave it to tenants to write two or three paragraphs “describing” themselves. That’s a risky strategy.
This tactic not only makes it more difficult to determine qualifications because of what tenants leave out, but it also makes it more likely to trigger a Human Rights Code violation for including information that the landlord doesn’t need.
Tenant screening is all about getting the right information to determine a prospective tenant’s qualifications. In addition to asking the right questions, it is equally important to avoid asking the wrong ones:
Prohibited questions generally fall under these categories:
Nationality and race;
Gender and sexual orientation;
Source of income;
Physical or mental disability.
To put those into more practical examples, questions like these on a rental application or in conversations are problematic:
Where are you from originally?
Is she/he your wife/husband?
Do your kids stay with you full-time?
Do you belong to the (local) Church?
This property is best suited for young professionals, or, are you a full-time student?
Do you have a drug or alcohol problem?
Tenant Screening Tips
One of the easiest ways to determine if a line of questioning is inappropriate is to decide whether the question can be asked of every applicant without seeming awkward. For example, a young, solo applicant would not be asked “Are you married? and a man would not be asked “Are you pregnant?”
Ask the same questions of every applicant. That makes it easier to compare multiple applicants and confirm qualifications without soliciting inappropriate information.
In the rental application, ask for income information generically and leave ample space to state the source of income. Do not label some income as “supplemental” or “additional” and do not list “Employment” and “Supplemental Income” in separate sections. Likewise, do not deny an application simply because the individual is not employed, so long as the person is receiving sufficient income from another source such as child support or disability payments.
When listing proposed occupants, avoid asking the applicant to describe their relationship to other occupants.
Stick to a script when it comes to prequalification questions, discussions during a property tour, and questions on the rental application. A picture should emerge of the applicant’s qualifications, not of the applicant’s physical description.
Stay away from social media platforms or online profiles when screening the applicant. Focus on verifying the information in the rental application.
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 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.