Tenant Screening Laws: Background Information
By law, a landlord is permitted to screen a tenant’s background, including a criminal and civil search and a credit check to determine the prospective renter’s character. The tenant screening process is therefore, a fundamental step to gauge the credit worthiness and character of prospective renters. It is thought to be essential during the interview process to mitigate the probability and subsequent losses associated with default or missed rental payments. A landlord; however, is disallowed from refusing to rent to a tenant without revealing the factors that lead to the rejection—if a tenant is rejected from a rental, the landlord must provide full disclosure as to why.
In a general sense, a landlord must get a tenant’s authorization to access their information—a landlord, by federal law, is not permitted to violate the tenant’s right to privacy. The laws concerning tenant screening are governed by the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Through the express consent of a tenant, a landlord is legally permitted to conduct a criminal and civil background check. The permission mandated is typically given by way of lease application; the prospective tenant will express consent on the document, sign it and pay the application fee. In turn, the landlord, according to tenant screening laws, must provide full disclosure in the application or provide the prospective tenant written documentation of their intention to conduct a civil and criminal background check. Furthermore, during the tenant screening process, a landlord is permitted to look for past judgments or evictions.
A landlord that rejects a rental application based on the information observed following the obtainment of a criminal and/or civil background check must give the applicant a written notice as to why he/she was rejected. This notice must contain the information that led to the rejection, where the landlord obtained it from and the agency responsible for reporting it.
Tenant Screening: Credit Check
A landlord is permitted to access a prospective renter’s credit history only after receiving their signed consent. A landlord may access the prospective tenant’s credit report will view their payment history for installment and revolving loans. If the credit history does not reflect a mature borrowing history or does meet the landlord’s leasing requirements, the landlord is required, by tenant screening law, to provide all contact information of the credit agency reporting the items, a notice of the prospective tenant’s right to dispute the information and a notice stating that the prospective tenant has the right to obtain a free copy of the credit report within 60 days.
Other Inquiries Associated with the Tenant Screening process
Landlords may contact a prospective tenant’s previous landlords to gather information concerning the individual’s behavior and payment history. A prospective landlord may inquire as to how the applicant honored their previous rental contracts and whether instances of bounced checks or irregular behavior was common. When a landlord contacts a previous landlord, the individual may not make personal inquiries, including questions revolving around the prospective tenant’s sexuality, their social life, marital status etc. Additionally, a landlord can contact an individual’s previous employers, to gather information regarding the individual’s work history and dates of employment.