How to Decline a Prospective Tenant: Legal Considerations

Finding a new tenant for your rental property can be exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time, and the prospect of having to reject a prospective tenant’s application can be depressing and stressful. No matter the reason for declining an applicant, it is important to understand and adhere to the legal implications for tenant rejection.

Federal Fair Housing Act

In 1968, the federal government passed the Fair Housing Act. It was established to protect tenants against discrimination based on race, gender, religion, familial status, disability, and national origin. Landlords, property owners, and rental management firms alike must abide by this law in order to avoid legal repercussions.

Rejecting a Prospective Tenant Legally

The legal implications of rejecting a tenant are serious, and as landlord, you should review and understand the Fair Housing Act before turning away a tenant. To stay legally compliant, landlords should only use specific set criteria when screening an applicant. Examples of acceptable reasons for tenant rejection include:

– Incomplete rental application
– Poor credit score
– No rental history
– Inability to pay the security deposit or rent
– Unverifiable references
– False information on rental application

Avoiding Discriminatory Practices

It is essential to remember that during the rental selection process, landlords are not able to discriminate in any way. That means that landlords are not able to reject an applicant based solely on factors such as their gender, race, religion, familial status, national origin, or disability. Any decisions that you make should solely be based on verifiable evidence from the tenant’s rental application and background. Be sure to document everything related to the application process in case of any potential legal issues down the line.

Decline Respectfully

It is important to keep the conversation professional and cordial when conveying the news of rejection to a prospective tenant. Be sure to explain the reason for the declination in a clear and concise, but also friendly manner. Avoid making the tenant feel slighted or discouraged by taking the time to explain why their application was not accepted and expressing your genuine appreciation for their willingness to apply and for their understanding.

Consider Legal Action

Unfortunately, there are always chances of legal action against landlords who do not follow the Fair Housing Act. To protect against any claims, make sure to follow the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act and document the entire application process. To further protect yourself, consider purchasing rental property insurance to cover potential legal proceedings.

Classified Ads and Social Media

When advertising a rental property, it is illegal to reject a tenant on the basis of any protected class factors. Verbiage used in classified ads must also be carefully monitored and should not include any discriminatory words or phrases. This rule applies to renting ads posted to both physical classified ads and those posted on social media.

Pros and Cons of Rejecting Tenants

It is often necessary, despite it being difficult, to reject a prospective tenant. However, it is important to weigh the pros and cons when considering a decision like this. When each case is taken into account objectively, you are often able to make the best decision for both your property and the prospective tenant.

When to Make an Exception

It is understandable to want to reject an applicant’s request to rent your property. However, there are some circumstances where it might be wise to make an exception. For example, maybe you have just received a great tenant with substantial credit and a large security deposit. Making an exception and accepting that applicant may be beneficial in that case.

Additional Considerations

In addition to the legal considerations for declining a tenant’s application, there are additional factors to keep in mind as well. You may need to consider the availability of your property and if you are able to afford to keep a unit vacant while waiting for a more viable tenant. You may also need to consider the amenity package and cost of the rent.


It is also essential to document everything related to the tenant application process in order to protect yourself in the event of any legal issues. Be sure to keep all documentation related to the tenant application process, including the application form, any documents related to the tenant background check, and a copy of the lease agreement (if applicable).


Declining a tenant’s application must be done carefully and in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. While it can be difficult to turn away an applicant, it is important to remember that the end goal is to protect both the landlord and the tenant. Ultimately, taking the necessary legal steps when rejecting an applicant will help to ensure that both parties are fully protected.

What are the landlord-tenant laws regarding rental applications?

Different states have different laws regarding rental applications. Generally, however, landlords are allowed to charge a maximum fee to cover the costs of background checks for a potential tenant. Also, landlords are required to adhere to fair housing and anti-discrimination laws when it comes to processing rental applications. Furthermore, the information provided by tenants on rental applications must be kept confidential. Landlords are also obligated to inform potential tenants of their rights and responsibilities, as well as any applicable state or local tenant laws. Finally, rental applications must include a clear and legally enforceable statement describing the remedies available to tenants in the event of a breach of the agreement by the landlord.

What information can a landlord require from a tenant on a rental application?

A landlord can typically require a tenant’s full name, address, telephone number, date of birth, Social Security number, source(s) of income, rental history, and financial information for a credit/background check. Depending on local and state laws, the landlord may be able to legally require additional pieces of information. In some cases, state or local laws even require landlords to document a tenant’s immigration status, although this is not common.

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