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Finding the right tenants for rental properties can be a defining factor in a landlord’s success. There are several different federal and state laws that protect both landlords and tenants. It’s important to be aware of these laws during the tenant screening process to make sure your business isn’t subject to violations or legal consequences. Though this article outlines a few major federal laws, there are several other state and federal statutes that may affect your business as well.

tenant screening

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect members of the public from being prevented from buying or renting housing based on their race, color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, family status and/or disability. In some cases during the screening process, a landlord may inadvertently violate this law while simply trying to protect the property from potential damage, but understanding the law is crucial to keeping your business out of hot water.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect members of the public from being prevented from buying or renting housing based on their race, color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, family status and/or disability.

This Act not only applies to conversations, paperwork, and decisions made while screening tenants, but also to marketing activities, as well. If you run a business with the purpose of leasing rental property (as opposed to a person looking for a roommate, for example) and you have placed an advertisement for your rental on Craigslist or in the paper, it’s important to ensure that you have not included discriminatory verbiage in your online or printed ads, or in any verbal conversations with potential tenants for that matter. Phrases such as “Females only”, “No Kids”, “Traditional Families Only”, could be construed as discrimination against a federally protected group of people.

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This Act also forbids sexual harassment of tenants or potential tenants, as well. To be clear of what sexual harassment entails, there are some very concrete behaviors outlined in the act. Expert lawyers note that these laws are constantly being tested Since the finer points of law are in a constant state of flux, you’ll need a lawyer to help you navigate the various precedents and details that could weigh on the outcome of your case if you are ever accused of a violation.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

While disabled adults are a protected class under the FHA, the ADA takes their protection a step further, and extends the FHA provisions for “reasonable accommodations" into public spaces, as well, which can affect you depending on the type of property you have and available access from the property to public space. Don’t be intimidated by these provisions, as they are not intended to be onerous to landlords, and “reasonable” can apply to both the timeframe needed to comply as well as the cost of any potential modification. Nobody expects a home to be completely rebuilt to modern ADA standards, but things like wheelchair ramps or widening a narrow door might be considered reasonable accommodations.

Age Discrimination Act

There are several laws regarding age discrimination. Some pertain to fair treatment of the elderly and violations can sometimes overlap both age and disabled status discrimination. Also of note, persons aged 18 and older are subject to protection under various laws, so if you try to prevent young adults from renting (especially in a college town) you could run afoul of the law.

While there are numerous laws in place throughout the country, the FHA is comprehensive and has been amended over the years; familiarity with this one Act at the very least can help you keep your business running smoothly.

Alden Bert