Boston Area Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening
Do your tenant screening tactics comply with MA and US Fair Housing laws? A Boston landlord tenant lawyer offers this brief guide to help you.
Avoid Discriminatory PracticesEvery landlord hopes to find a great tenant, someone who can show a steady work history, commands a salary sufficient to cover the rent, has a decent credit score, and can provide great references from former landlords. So it makes sense that you'd want to ask them questions to help you determine how suitable a tenant applicant is for your property.
While it is common practice to ask prospective tenants for background information, landlords must be careful not to engage in any practices that discriminate against certain classes of people who are protected by federal and state law.
Know and Understand the Appropriate Fair Housing LawsThe Fair Housing Act is a federal law that is intended to protect renters and homebuyers from discrimination. While there are limited exceptions, the law applies to most rental properties in the U.S. In order to comply with the Act, a covered landlord should not ask a prospective tenant their race, skin color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or family status.
In addition, Massachusetts law protects tenants against discrimination because they are on public assistance or because of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital status, military or veteran status, age (with exceptions for housing designated for the elderly) or ancestry. Persons who are victims of domestic violence also receive protection against housing discrimination. There are even some restrictions on how and to what extent you can deny a lease to someone with a criminal history, although it is a generally acceptable for a landlord to look into an applicant's criminal history during the lease application process.
Know What You Can Ask ApplicantsAs a landlord, you have certain rights when it comes to your property. You can require a prospective tenant to fill out and sign a written renter's application that gives consent for you to perform a check on information about them. You can ask for information about the applicant's rental history as well as information that will allow you to verify employment, income and bank account information. With consent, you can also obtain a credit report and perform a criminal background check.
Be Careful When Using Screening ServicesSome landlords sign on to tenant screening services to check the information provided. But even though you are allowed to collect certain information, there are still restrictions on how you can use it. For example, just because somebody has a bankruptcy in their past doesn't mean that you can use that information to deny them housing. It depends on other factors such as how long ago their bankruptcy was discharged. Similarly, just because someone has a criminal record doesn't mean you can automatically refuse to rent an apartment. It depends on what the conviction was for and other factors.
Properly Explain the Reasons for DenialIf you do decide to deny an application, there are rules around how to properly notify an applicant that their housing request is being denied and what you have to tell them about the information you uncovered. You may also have to give them an opportunity to correct any errors in the information you received or provide other pertinent information.
If you have questions about the rules around tenant screening, we encourage you to contact us at (617) 848-4572 to speak with an experienced Boston landlord tenant lawyer or request an appointment online today.