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How to Screen Tenants without Breaking the Law

Screen Tenants

For landlords, finding good tenants is a top priority. Whether you manage a large multi-unit property, or you lease just a handful of units, you want responsible tenants that pay their rent on time and treat your property with care and respect. It’s not always easy to find these types of Screen Tenants. In fact, many landlords must deal with a high rate of tenant turnover – something that can quickly drain a landlord’s time and bank account.

Screening prospective tenants is one way to make sure you are leasing your property to a responsible and trustworthy person.

At the same time, it’s critically important for landlords to know the dos and don’ts of tenant screening, as both federal and state laws protect tenants from housing discrimination.

In fact, some landlords are so intimidated by these regulations, they do very little tenant screening.

One way to ensure your screening process complies with the law is to work with a Miami landlord-tenant lawyer.

Your lawyer can help you with every step in the leasing process, from identifying well-qualified applicants to creating comprehensive rental agreements that protect your rights and your property.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when screening prospective tenants:

Know Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities

If you are a landlord, it is absolutely essential to become well-versed in the federal and state laws that protect tenants.

For example, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on race, religion, gender, national origin, physical or mental disabilities, or family status. Florida law also prohibits discriminatory housing practices.

Although these laws might seem complex, it’s essential to at least learn the basic provisions. When in doubt, consult your landlord-tenant lawyer before taking action. Working with a knowledgeable lawyer can help you avoid potentially costly legal mistakes.

Clear Advertisements with Your Landlord-Tenant Lawyer

Most landlords want their ads to be eye-catching to prospective tenants. As with any type of advertising, the goal is to attract customers. You want to make your rental property sound as attractive as possible.

The problem is that certain types of descriptive words and phrasing can actually run afoul of housing discrimination laws. For example, a phrase like “runners will love the conveniently located park” could get flagged as exclusionary toward the elderly or people with disabilities.

A better option is to use language that does not single out a particular group or exclude a portion of the population. Instead of referencing runners or joggers, you could say something like, “nature enthusiasts will love the conveniently located park.”

Create Uniform Standards and Stick to Them

Work with a lawyer to craft fair, uniform rental application guidelines to help you screen potential tenants. In Florida, landlords are permitted to reject prospective tenants. Based on bad credit, negative references, or known bad behavior that makes an individual a risk.

However, if you conduct background checks on one possible tenant, you must conduct background checks on all possible tenants. You can’t pick and choose which individuals you will investigate.

Landlords can also ask potential tenants about their financial history, including whether they have ever filed bankruptcy, whether they have been evicted previously, and any other relevant questions.

On the other hand, the law prohibits landlords from asking questions that violate fair housing laws. Questions about mental illness, disabilities, or other topics violate this law.

Have a Written Rental Agreement

Any time you enter into a contract, you should put the terms and conditions in writing. A written rental agreement should clearly outline the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant.

Your rental agreement should also comply with all state and federal laws. Your lawyer can help you draft an agreement that is thorough, fair, and unambiguous.

Read more about landlord-tenant law in Florida:
Residential Evictions – Do Landlords Really Need Help from a Lawyer?

Call a Miami Landlord-Tenant Lawyer about Your Case

Finding good tenants isn’t always easy. You can make the process much easier by knowing the law. Working with a knowledgeable Florida landlord-tenant lawyer will also help you.

Contact a Miami landlord-tenant lawyer to learn more about steps you can take to protect your property, your reputation, and your business.