For at least some locations, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Gen Y tenants are currently flooding the rental market and increasing competition among tenants. More prospective tenants is obviously great news for landlords, but they still have to select wisely from among applicants. Here are some suggestions to help landlords identify the perfect tenant, or at least the best of the bunch, without running afoul of the fair housing laws.
When there are several applicants for a rental vacancy, a landlord wants to pick the one who seems most likely to pay the rent on time and least likely to damage the premises or disturb other tenants. To find this tenant, it’s very helpful for the landlord to have screening procedures set up — a good screening process will identify the best tenants without risking charges of illegal discrimination.
The most common way to get the necessary information on prospective tenants is to use a uniform written application. A written application signed by the applicant must be obtained before a landlord can obtain a credit check. A written application also benefits the landlord by providing a record of representations made by the tenant to obtain the rental unit.
The information requested in a rental application should be tailored to meet the goals of the screening process, such as determining the applicant’s ability to pay the rent, stability, responsibility, reputation, and character. In addition, the application should contain the applicant’s express authorization for the landlord to contact all listed references, former landlords, or employers, as well as verify the contents of the application.
In screening prospective applicants, landlords must always comply with the federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination in residential housing. See e.g., 42 USC §3604; Govt C §§12926(p), 12955. The fair housing laws also prohibit discriminatory rental terms and conditions, advertising, and statements on the availability of housing.
To assess an applicant’s minimal qualifications to meet essential tenancy obligations objectively a landlord may use factors such as the following when choosing a tenant:
- credit standing;
- employment history (with care to provide for equal treatment of applicants who have other sources of income, or who cannot work because of a disability);
- amount (but not source) of income;
- personal references;
- rental history; and
- past bad conduct relevant to reasonable belief applicant may be direct threat to health or safety of current tenants or neighboring property.
For everything a landlord needs to know about finding that perfect tenant, including a checklist on tenant information for the screening process, fair housing considerations, and many sample forms, check out CEB’s California Landlord-Tenant Practice.
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