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December 29, 2015 |

How to Screen Prospective Tenants Accurately — and Fairly

A one-year lease represents a significant obligation, so it is natural for Massachusetts landlords to want to carefully screen prospective tenants. As explained by the Massachusetts Attorney General, however, many housing discrimination laws exist at the state and federal levels to prevent landlords from advertising or screening practices that might be interpreted as discriminatory to prospective tenants. New landlords in particular should consider creating a standardized screening practice with help from a Boston landlord-tenant lawyer who is well-versed in state and federal laws.

Handle These Three Practices Carefully

All landlords have the right to thoroughly screen prospective tenants so they can reduce the risk of financial or legal battles down the road. It is important, however, to handle the screening process fairly and consistently, particularly in the following three areas:

  • Advertising the rental: Poorly-worded advertisements can have a screening effect even before applicants respond to them. When placing an ad, landlords need to take extra care to avoid language that mentions protected classes in any way or hints at certain preferences. Even the choice of advertising media can represent preferences, for example, when ads are distributed solely within geographic areas that cater to specific clientele. Avoiding advertising in non-English language media can also potentially be interpreted as discriminatory, depending on the specific situation. A review by an experienced housing attorney can help avoid unintentional advertising pitfalls.
  • Credit checks: All landlords naturally want to perform research to determine the likelihood that potential tenants are financially capable of paying rent in full and on time. While no law prohibits landlords from performing credit and employment checks, they must conduct them for all prospective tenants, using the same process and criteria. In other words, applicants who discover that landlords are conducting more detailed checks for some individuals may have reasonable grounds to claim discriminatory screening practices.
  • Background checks: Landlords have a great deal of latitude in screening for prior landlord references, past eviction history, criminal history and even personal references. Clearly, it is reasonable to learn everything you can about the history of applicants. Again, this type of research must be conducted consistently for all applicants, and it is advisable to offer tenants with the opportunity to explain any negative findings.

New Landlords Should Consider Seeking Legal Advice

Long-term landlords most likely have standardized every part of the rental process to conduct thorough applicant screenings while protecting themselves from discrimination claims. On the other hand, landlords with limited experience can easily fall prey to discrimination claims due to minor errors made unintentionally.

The Law Offices of Shaun A. Hannafin has extensive experience guiding landlords through a detailed and fair screening process, and we are available to assist landlords facing false discrimination claims. Call us at (617) 848-4572 to learn your available legal options.

Posted in Landlord-Tenant Information

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