Selecting tenants for residential rentals can leave landlords feeling as if they are giving their fate to the luck of the draw.
But, asking good questions on a rental application, and knowing what you are legally not allowed to ask, helps smooth the process.
Landlords should not include specific types of questions on a rental application. Avoiding these queries assists landlords in staying within the letter of the law.
Keep in mind that this information applies to verbal interviews and written applications.
Even if the subjects come up in small talk, you should not proceed with the following lines of questioning.
What Can Landlords Not Ask on a Rental Application?
Rental applications are essential tools for screening tenants. However, landlords have a legal responsibility to avoid the following questions on their applications:
Questions About Race
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits questions about race on a rental application. Established in 1968, the FHA prevents discrimination in all housing matters, including rentals and sales.
Questions About Nationality
Per FHA statutes, rental applications cannot include questions about where tenants were born or what country they came from.
As with race, questions about nationality violate anti-discrimination laws designed to protect ethnic minorities from being denied housing.
Questions about what language applicants speak, where their parents were born, or where their significant other or children were born are also illegal.
Questions About Religion
Religious questions are illegal on rental applications.
During a face-to-face or telephone interview, and in writing, landlords should refrain from asking applicants whether they are interested in local churches, mosques, or synagogues, regardless of the intent behind the question.
Landlords should also avoid displaying religious symbolism in rental units. If they do, they may violate the FHA if a court discovers a pattern of denying applicants of a specific religion.
Questions About Age
It is also illegal to discriminate based on age when selecting tenants for rental properties. However, landlords can decline applicants who cannot enter a legally binding lease agreement.
Although landlords can rent to minors, they typically protect themselves by requiring a parent or guardian as a co-signer.
Landlords with properties that qualify for the federal 55 and older exemption may refuse to rent to people less than 55 years of age and with minor children.
Questions About Physical or Mental Disabilities
Any questions about physical or mental disabilities can also place landlords in legal hot water.
Peripheral questions, such as whether an applicant has a service animal, are not allowed during the tenant screening process.
However, suppose applicants have a service animal and a landlord chooses them for residency. In that case, the landlord must allow a reasonable accommodation for the service assistance animal as long as the tenants meet specific criteria.
Questions About Family Status
Although property owners have the legal right to limit the number of occupants in any unit to comply with health and safety regulations, they may not discriminate based on family status.
For instance, if a rental safely houses a maximum of four people, landlords can not discriminate based on the relationships between the potential household occupants.
However, it is legal to require a separate credit application for everyone older than 18.
Questions About Sexual Orientation
Although federal law does not explicitly prohibit questions regarding sexual orientation, many jurisdictions have enacted state statutes making these questions illegal.
The following are examples of states that have fair housing laws prohibiting discrimination against prospective tenants based on sexual orientation:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
Even in jurisdictions where it is currently not illegal to deny housing based on sexual orientation, many landlords choose to avoid these types of questions on their rental applications.
Property owners should avoid sexual orientation-based queries during the interview process as well.
Questions About Public Assistance
Property owners have the right to ascertain whether applicants meet income guidelines, but they cannot ask specific questions regarding an applicant’s acceptance of government services.
For instance, landlords do not have a right to that information if a potential tenant is employed but receives child care assistance or SNAP benefits.
Questions About Arrests
Most states allow rental applications to include questions about whether or not an applicant has been convicted of a crime.
However, asking about prior arrests is generally prohibited because arrest incidents do not necessarily mean that the person committed a crime.
In Oregon, a landlord can not deny a rental application solely because the applicant has a misdemeanor conviction that occurred more than three years before the date of application.
Additionally, Oregon law states that convictions for felony offenses that occurred more than seven years before the date of application – or convictions within the juvenile justice system – can not be the sole reason for rental application denial.
What Can a Landlord Ask for on a Rental Application?
Although the restrictions outlined by the FHA serve as the foundation for rental applications across the country, landlords need to be mindful that municipal, county, and state jurisdictions can have different laws.
One innocent mistake can result in thousands in legal fees and fines.
When you write a rental application or conduct an interview with a potential tenant over the phone, ask intelligent questions that help you determine an applicant’s financial situation and ability to pay rent.
Landlords may legally ask questions that help discern a tenant’s financial stability, such as:
- Do you have a source of income?
- How much money do you make per month?
- Do you have money for a security deposit?
Property owners can not ask questions that violate federal or state discrimination laws. Federal law prohibits questions about national origin, race, sex, familial status, religion, and disabilities.
California landlords cannot ask about color, race, sex, religion, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, national origin, familial status, genetic information, or disability.
Legal Templates helps landlords create customized rental applications that include questions about financial stability but not queries that may get a property owner into legal trouble.
Remember, if you ask the wrong questions on a rental application or during the verbal interview process, you may end up in court and lose money on your investment.
Ready to generate your residential rental application? Use our step-by-step builder to create a document that will help protect your and your assets.
Rental Application Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A standard rental application is not a legally binding document to rent a property, nor is it a contract. Rental applications are investigative tools used to gather relevant information during the tenant screening. Remember that while a basic rental application is not legally binding in a traditional sense, it does contain signatures of applicants who consent to tell the truth and provide authorizations to landlords to perform background and credit checks.
A standard rental application is not a legally binding document to rent a property, nor is it a contract.
Rental applications are investigative tools used to gather relevant information during the tenant screening.
Remember that while a basic rental application is not legally binding in a traditional sense, it does contain signatures of applicants who consent to tell the truth and provide authorizations to landlords to perform background and credit checks.
You can quickly gather information to run a credit check on a rental application by including the following queries in your form: You can order a credit report for a tenant from the following third-party credit bureaus:
You can quickly gather information to run a credit check on a rental application by including the following queries in your form:
You can order a credit report for a tenant from the following third-party credit bureaus: