Being a successful property manager or landlord does require a lot of education, understanding of marketing, and knowing your markets. It also requires that you understand the laws that apply to certain situation. You could be a marketing guru with amazing insights to the market, but if you break one of these laws: you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Most states have standards for both health and safety when it comes to living conditions. These are set by both the state and local codes, health laws, and laws pertaining to landlord-tenant relations. If you rent out a property, you are required by law to make important repairs, correct any environmental hazards, and respond with adequate security measures if your property becomes attractive to criminals. In most states, tenants can not only break your lease contract over these issues, but they can also withhold rent if they have to make those repairs themselves. In some cases, lawsuits have been brought and won by tenants of landlords who did not make timely repairs to properties.
There are reams of laws and rules about when, why, and how much notice you have to give before you can enter someone’s home: even if it’s a property you own and rent out. However, all too often, landlords and property managers do arrive at a property without prior notice, for inspections, repairs, or even to show the house. Even small violations like this can be legal validation for a tenant to break the lease but can also end up in court with damages against the offending landlord. It’s always worth the extra effort to know your state’s notice laws, and adhere to them.
The laws regarding this have been around for more than 20 years. Both federal and local laws prohibit discrimination in housing, and yet people still persist in practices that do this. Even something as innocuous as putting a preference for “mature” or “moral” tenants in your rental listing counts. Excluding people or holding them to standards that don’t really have any bearing on their ability to pay rent is illegal. Sure, tenant screening is important. However, when screening, there are questions that aren’t particularly any of your business and they’re also illegal forms of discrimination. Even a well intended question, such as, “So, are you two married?” or “What is the extent of your disability?” can be seen as discriminatory if you end up renting to someone else who happens to be married or not disabled. Even if your rejection wasn’t about that, you’ve set yourself up for a fair housing complaint. It’s just not worth it. So, how do you prevent something like this from happening?
Well, you could just not discriminate. That’s the simplest route. However, here are some tips to help you screen tenants appropriately and without incident.
- Don’t ask questions that relate in any way to the protected classes of people. There are seven. These are race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and familial status. Individual states can and do add other classes, so again, just avoid personal questions. It’s a good idea to ask everyone the same questions, no differences. None of these things have any bearing whatsoever on someone’s ability to pay rent, and the Federal government agrees.
- Treat everyone who responds to your ad or calls you about rentals the same, exact way. Provide everyone with the same exact information, no matter who they are.
- Having standards written down in terms of what you expect from tenants is a good thing. However, when you are writing these: make sure you steer clear of anything connected to those 7 protected classes.