One of the best ways to prevent legal disputes and issues with tenants is to properly and legally screen tenants before you turn over your property to them. Proper screening can prevent you from losing money and protect you from facing a legal battle due to non-payment. However, under the Fair Housing Act, there are questions you are legally not permitted to ask during the screening process. The best way to protect yourself is to speak to a commercial real estate lawyer to assist you in developing a legal screening process that protects your interests within the limits of the law. Solomon Richman, P.C. in Minneola is a commercial real estate attorney who can protect you if you have questions about your legal rights as a landlord or need assistance with landlord tenant agreements and disputes.
There are many legal ways to screen applicants before you rent, and as a landlord, there are several legal reasons you can use to turn applicants away. However, there are also legal protections in place for rental applicants. Not knowing these protections can get you into trouble. Landlords sometimes face lawsuits or legal action when they fail to follow commercial real estate laws.
For instance, according to the American Apartment Owners Association, you can pass on screening fees to applicants, but only within reason, and you are generally not allowed to profit off of application fees. It is often best to let potential tenants know you will be conducting a background check, so that they can address any issues that may arise. Generally, you are legally allowed to reject an applicant if they have a criminal history for violent crimes, if they were evicted previously, and if they cannot provide clear sources of income.
You are allowed to ask for certain kinds of information in your application, but it is important that you speak to a commercial real estate lawyer first to make sure that your application isn’t in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Failure to follow the law can result in serious consequences. For instance, in some cases, landlords have faced lawsuits for asking questions about an applicant’s race, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, family status, or national origin.
You are also permitted to ask potential tenants about their credit history and employment—after all, as a landlord you have a right to know whether your tenant has the means to pay the rent. Be careful about asking about sources of income, though. You aren’t allowed to ask outright if a tenant is on welfare or if the tenant is using other governmental sources of income.
Landlords have rights, but so do tenants. Speaking to a commercial real estate lawyer before you draft lease agreements or draft rental applications can save you a great deal of hassle and trouble, and can even save you money in costly litigation and disputes. If you have commercial real estate questions, Solomon Richman, P.C. may be able to assist you.