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Tenant screening cannot discriminate

The U.S. Fair Housing Act and Arizona law clearly prohibit discrimination in real estate and housing. However, landlords can screen potential tenants concerning their income, employment, references and credit history to assure, in a neutral and unbiased manner, that applicants are qualified.

However, all screening policies must be applied to every applicant uniformly. Exceptions should not be made for any applicants.

Rental application forms should not be overly personal. Inquiries can cover jobs, previous addresses, income and references. Questions cannot address spouses and other categories that are protected under federal law. Landlords can ask for a listing of adults who will live in the apartment, however.

Landlords can also use a screening service that uses a software scoring system concerning their preferred tenant that excludes items such as race, religion or other legally-protected classes. Criteria can include income, evictions and credit scores. Using default tolerances, the software evaluates the applicant according to these objective parameters and issues a positive or negative recommendation.

However, new developments may affect tenant screening. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided guidance governing when a landlord can use an applicant's arrest and conviction records in 2016. Generally, landlords cannot reject all applicants with felony records and must conduct an individual evaluation for each applicant.

An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act was also introduced that would restrict landlords from reviewing eviction records that are over three years and were not appealed. Currently, landlords can consider evictions that are no more than seven years old.

Landlords should keep all screening documents and applications for accepted and rejected applicant for at least 10 years. This can help prove that a more qualified tenant was selected for objective reasons. A rejection letter, called an adverse action letter, should be sent to rejected applicants containing legitimate reasons for rejection such as income, employment or credit history.

An attorney can help provide current guidance on fair housing and residential real estate. They can periodically review documents such as applications and contract terms and help assure that there is no discrimination or lawsuits.

Source: AZ Big Media, "Do's and don'ts for non-discriminatory tenant screening," By Robbie Cronrod, Feb. 9, 2018

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