Legal Considerations During the Tenant Screening Process

Finding a tenant for your property can be an arduous task. As a property owner, you need to follow the law with regards to tenant screening and tenant rights. Knowing what you must and must not do when tenant screening is essential for navigating the rental market. Here, we’ll discuss important legal considerations when tenant screening.

What Is Tenant Screening?

Tenant screening is the process of reviewing and evaluating prospective tenants’ applications. The rental application should ask the applicant for personal and financial information, best practices for tenant screening depend on the company, the type of property, and the tenants. People usually go through a background check as part of the screening process.

Legal Requirements for Tenant Screening

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, mental and physical disability, and familial status.

The FHA provides certain information and guidelines for landlords to follow during the tenant screening process. Some of these requirements include:

  • Screening criteria should be the same across all applicants.
  • Landlords cannot ask questions about race, color, religion, national origin, gender, mental and physical disability, and familial status.
  • Background and credit checks must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • When renting a home to a tenant with a disability, you must make reasonable modifications if requested.
  • You must provide reasonable accommodation for tenants with disabilities.
  • You must provide notice of the tenant’s rights under the FHA before signing a lease with a tenant.

Questions to Ask During the Tenant Screening Process

When screening tenants, it’s important to adhere to the law. Asking inappropriate questions can lead to some serious legal hassles. The following are some common questions to ask potential tenants during the tenant screening process:

  • Have you ever been evicted?
  • How many people will be living in the rental unit?
  • What is your current job?
  • What is your current salary?
  • Where do you work?
  • Do you have renter’s insurance?
  • Have you ever been late on rent payments?
  • Do you have a criminal record?
  • Do you have a valid driver’s license?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have any pets?

What Not to Ask During Tenant Screening?

While conducting the tenant screening process, it is important to stay aware of what questions are considered inappropriate. It is illegal to ask any questions about:

  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Family size
  • Disability

When it comes to tenant screening, it is important to ensure that all questions you ask comply with state and federal laws.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

Landlords should review, explain, and discuss tenant rights and responsibilities with prospective tenants. Potential tenants should clearly understand their rights and responsibilities before signing a lease. Depending on the state and local legislations, tenant rights and responsibilities may include:

  • Repairs and maintenance: Landlords must keep the rental property in a fit and habitable state, meaning that it is safe and free from hazards.
  • Security deposits: Security deposits set out in a rental agreement should not exceed a state-mandated amount and must be returned to the tenant in a timely manner.
  • Utilities and services: Landlords are typically responsible for providing and maintaining certain utilities and services.
  • Privacy: Landlords cannot enter a rental unit without providing the tenant with advance notice.
  • Discrimination: Landlords cannot discriminate against a tenant based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and other protected classes.
  • Habitability: The unit/dwelling must be in a habitable state when they move in and at all times during the tenancy.
  • Lease agreements: Landlords must provide renters with a copy of their lease agreement.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA requires landlords to obtain a tenant’s written consent before conducting a background or credit check. Additionally, the landlord must give the tenant written notice that the tenant can obtain a copy of their report from the landlord. Additionally, landlords must also provide the tenant with a copy of the report and inform them of their rights under the FCRA.

Discrimination Laws and Regulations

Landlords must understand discrimination laws to avoid costly fair housing lawsuits. When a prospective tenant files a discrimination lawsuit, they must prove that there was an intent to discriminate. Examples of discriminatory behaviors include:

  • Asking different people different questions regardless of their race and/or nationality.
  • Refusing to rent to people of a certain race or ethnicity.
  • Requiring different sets of documents or references for tenants of different races or nationalities.
  • Inquires about someone’s citizenship.
  • Inquiring about a person’s religion.
  • Making personal comments about a person’s race or physical characteristics.

It is important for landlords to be aware of their state and local fair housing laws when conducting tenant screening.

Best Practices for Tenant Screening

When conducting tenant screening, landlords should:

  • Create a standardized tenant screening process.
  • Update processes and policies regularly to stay compliant with varying laws and regulations.
  • Create a fair tenant selection process.
  • Provide honest and accurate information about the rental unit and the requirements for screening.
  • Be consistent in the application review process.
  • Be up to date with federal, state, and local fair housing laws.
  • Ensure that all questions asked during the tenant screening process comply with the law.


The tenant screening process is an important part of the leasing process. It is essential for landlords to be aware of their legal rights and responsibilities when tenant screening. Additionally, it is important to know and understand legal considerations when conducting tenant screening, such as Fair Housing Law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and tenant rights and responsibilities. Following these laws will help protect landlords from potential legal hassles. Knowing and implementing best practices during the tenant screening process is essential for a successful outcome for both parties.

What are the required documents for tenant screening?

1. Credit report

2. Background check

3. Employment/Income verifications

4. Rental history/references

5. Identification

6. Bank statements

7. Eviction records

8. Financial statements

9. Landlord-tenant law knowledge

What is required for landlord tenant screening?

1. Background check: This should include a credit check, criminal check, and employment/rental history verification.

2. Interview: Ask potential tenants questions about their background, rental needs, and lifestyle.

3. Documentation: Ask tenants to provide copies of identification documents, such as driver’s license, Social Security card, etc.

4. Rental applications and lease agreements: Make sure all forms and documents are completed and signed.

5. Security deposit: Request a security deposit to help protect against any potential damages when tenants move out.

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