How to Avoid Discrimination During Tenant Screening

Tenant screening is an essential part of the renting process for landlords. It helps to ensure that renters are reliable and will pay their rent on time. But tenant screening also raises a number of potential legal issues that can lead to discrimination claims. As a landlord, you need to understand the laws surrounding tenant screening to ensure that you avoid discrimination. Here’s how.

What is Tenant Screening?

Tenant screening is a process of collecting and evaluating information about prospective tenants. The most common methods are credit checks, background checks, and reference checks. The goal of tenant screening is to determine if a tenant is a good fit for a rental property.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of a particular protected characteristic. Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, or age. In addition, many states and localities have their own laws that prohibit discrimination on a broader range of characteristics, such as sexual orientation.

How to Avoid Discrimination in Tenant Screening

The first step to avoiding discrimination in tenant screening is to make sure that you are compliant with federal, state, and local laws. This means understanding the protected categories that are applicable in your area and only evaluating tenant applications based on relevant factors.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid discrimination during tenant screening:

1. Create a Written Tenant Screening Policy

Creating a written tenant screening policy that clearly states the factors that you will consider in evaluating applicants can help to ensure compliance with the law. Make sure to include the criteria that is most relevant to evaluating the applicant, such as credit score or rental history.

2. Screen All Applicants the Same Way

It’s important to use the same process for evaluating all applicants. This means conducting the same type of background check, credit check, and reference check for every applicant. This will help to ensure that all applicants are evaluated based on the same criteria.

3. Avoid Asking Discriminatory Questions

When you are interviewing an applicant, it’s important to avoid any questions that may be perceived as discriminatory. This includes questions related to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability, or age.

4. Stick to Relevant, Non-Discriminatory Criteria

When evaluating applicants, it’s important to stick to criteria that are relevant to the rental decision. For example, an applicant’s criminal history might be a factor in evaluating an applicant’s reliability, but a criminal history related to a protected characteristic should not be a factor in the decision.

5. Train Staff

Training staff on the tenant screening process can help to ensure that they understand the importance of avoiding discrimination and sticking to relevant criteria. Staff should be trained on the laws related to discrimination and the criteria that should be used to evaluate applicants.


Tenant screening is an essential part of the landlord-tenant relationship. But it’s important to understand the laws related to tenant screening to ensure that you are compliant and avoid discrimination. With proper training and attention to detail, you can reduce the risk of discrimination during tenant screening. Remember, treating all tenants fairly and equitably is the best way to avoid discrimination claims.

What information should not be asked during tenant screening?

Any information that pertains to a tenant’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, and disability. Additionally, any questions regarding medical status or genetic information are prohibited.

What questions are considered discriminatory in tenant screening?

1. Are you or any members of your family disabled?

2. What is your religious affiliation?

3. What is your country of origin or ethnicity?

4. Are you pregnant or do you plan to become pregnant in the near future?

5. How old are you?

6. Do you have any children?

7. What is your marital status?

8. Do you have any medical or psychological conditions that would impede your ability to rent the property?

9. Do you receive any type of public assistance?

10. What is your sexual orientation?

What type of questions are illegal to ask during tenant screening?

Illegal questions include those based on race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability, medical history or other protected characteristics. Other illegal questions include questions about income or financial status, creditworthiness, military service and citizenship.

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