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Can landlords use rental applications to screen tenants?

On Behalf of | May 22, 2023 | Real Estate Litigation

You can and should check up on those who apply to rent or lease your property. Without screening measures, you could end up with a tenant who causes problems for you and others or refuses to pay their rent.

Although you may screen your tenants, you must remain within the confines of California landlord-tenant laws and avoid violating their rights. A savvy individual could call out your improper conduct if a dispute arises, potentially leading to a legal nightmare.

Can you ask personal questions on the application?

Like most landlords, you probably have your prospective tenants complete an application. Although this seems like a fine opportunity to conduct some prescreening, you must be careful what you ask on a rental application. Under federal law, you may not discriminate against anyone with a protected status when renting or leasing real property.

If you ask questions like these, you risk violating fair housing laws:

  • What year were you born?
  • Are you planning to have children?
  • Do you attend church?
  • Are you or another tenant disabled?
  • What faith do you follow?

These questions may seem innocent to some property owners. For example, you might want to ask about disabilities to ensure proper access to the rental unit or grounds. However, such questions can appear discriminatory under the federal Fair Housing Act, especially if you decline the application. A disgruntled applicant or tenant could use these questions against you.

As you can see, there are many pitfalls for landlords to avoid when dealing with tenants. An effective way to reduce legal risks and find trustworthy tenants is through legal guidance. Having a professional assist with your application and screening process can help ensure that you don’t violate any discrimination laws.