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Tenant Screening: What Landlords Need to Know


Sometimes the information on the screening report practically jumps off the page and screams, "BAD TENANT - AVOID AT ALL COSTS!"  It's an easy decision when the credit score is so low it could be a golf score. Or, when the criminal report shows they were convicted of running a meth lab out of their last apartment.  

Nevertheless, landlords need a standard policy outlining their tenant selection criteria and it needs to be based on evidence that renting to people with similar backgrounds has been shown to result in safety hazards to other tenants (think meth labs) or that they are likely to avoid paying rent or won't follow the rules (because they have a history of that behavior).  The policy should be applied uniformly to all applicants to avoid claims of discrimination. 

Every landlord strives for full occupancy with quality residents.  Unfortunately, not all applicants can or should be approved.  However, just as in employment screening, it will go a long way in defending against a claim of discrimination if a landlord conducts an Individualized Assessment with the prospect tenant before denying housing on the basis of a background check result, especially when it comes to considering criminal convictions.

An Individualized Assessment is nothing more than showing that you considered such things as:

  • The nature of the crime(s) and how a repeat of the behavior would cause a nuisance or danger to other tenants and/or a hardship to the landlord

  • The severity of the crime(s) 

  • How long ago the conviction(s) occurred and how old the prospective resident was at the time

  • Can the prospective tenant demonstrate successful efforts at rehabilitation?  Have they had a successful tenancy since the last conviction?

The main thing to avoid when considering criminal records in evaluating prospective tenants is to not use overly broad generalizations such as denying anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony. Landlords who do, run a substantial risk of having a disparate impact based on race or national origin. 

Safer Places offers software that assists landlords in their evaluation process.  And while this software will help keep your decisions consistent, we also recommend Individualized Assessments and allowing prospective tenants an opportunity to provide additional information and mitigating factors.