A landlord in Washington has created quite a buzz by placing an ad that encourages tenants who are vegetarian.
While this restriction is fairly common in ads for roommates, and even in room-shares with live-in landlords, it’s unique when it comes to off-site landlords.
And, there may be good reason for that.
According to the plethora of news stories, the landlord intends to include a “meat-free” restriction in the lease agreement. In exchange, vegetarian tenants will receive a monthly rent abatement.
That creates a contract. Whether it’s enforceable is yet to be seen, but it would make for an interesting day in court. After all, how do you prove a violation?
There is a looming legal problem when seeking “boutique” tenants, whether it’s vegetarians, joggers, students, young professionals, those who work for a particular employer, or any other personal preferences. With the new rules regarding “disparate impact”, these preferences, which on their face seem innocent, actually can spark a claim for discrimination.
For instance, when it comes to diet, vegetarianism is not just a preference; for many, it’s a religious practice. That pits rental applicants with different leanings against one another, giving some a distinct advantage. It’s even possible to make the case that these special requirements will generate more applicants of certain races over others.
One way to gauge disparate impact is to see who applies for a vacancy, and compare those demographics to the local population. If an ad is “chilling” or discouraging certain groups from applying, then it may be illegal.
Once an applicant makes a case for disparate impact, then the landlord has to prove that there is a legitimate business reason for the restriction. A judge will have to determine if social causes or personal preferences can stand the test.
But there’s an even greater problem when placing special restrictions on rental applicants: Whenever landlords focus on the type of tenant they are looking for, they run the risk of losing sight of the tenant’s actual qualifications. Being vegetarian doesn’t automatically make someone a good tenant. Sometimes, runners don’t pay their bills. There’s no guarantee that people who work at the local factory have a good rental history.
Tenant screening should never be sidetracked by a tenant’s personal characteristics. Landlords can’t afford to fall in love with an applicant because of what they believe — or what they say they believe.
It’s important to have a standard tenant screening policy that is applied the same to every tenant. That’s the only way to avoid discrimination claims, and the only way to find the best tenants. After all, there’s nothing that says a person who feels it’s wrong to eat meat will make it a priority to pay rent on time.
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.