Tenant Screening: What Landlords Can and Can’t Consider in the Process


In the competitive world of renting, tenant screening plays a crucial role in finding the right tenant for landlords. However, it’s important to remember that there are legal boundaries to what landlords can consider during this process. This article aims to provide landlords with a comprehensive understanding of what they can and can’t consider when screening potential tenants, ensuring fair renting practices.

Fair Housing Laws

Before delving into the specifics, it’s essential to have a strong grasp of fair housing laws. These laws aim to prevent landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on certain protected characteristics. Some of these characteristics include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disabilities. As a landlord, it’s crucial to understand and adhere to these laws to create an equal housing opportunity.

What Landlords Can Consider

  1. Credit Score and History: Assessing a tenant’s creditworthiness is a common factor considered by landlords during the screening process. It provides valuable insights into an applicant’s financial responsibility, payment history, and debt obligations.
  2. Income and Employment Verification: Landlords may consider an applicant’s income and employment stability to ensure they have the financial capability to meet rent obligations. Verification can be done by reviewing pay stubs, tax returns, or contacting the employer directly.
  3. Rental History: A tenant’s rental history allows landlords to understand their behavior as a tenant. This includes their past payment patterns, eviction records, and any property damage caused during previous tenancies.
  4. Criminal Background Checks: Landlords have the right to consider a potential tenant’s criminal history. However, it’s important to remember that blanket bans based on criminal records can be discriminatory. Instead, landlords should focus on specific convictions that directly relate to potential harm to other tenants or property.
  5. References: Landlords may request references from previous landlords or personal references to gain insights into an applicant’s character, reliability, and ability to maintain a rental property.
  6. Pet Ownership: While landlords can consider whether tenants own pets, they should be cautious not to discriminate against tenants with disabilities who require service animals. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for such tenants.

What Landlords Can’t Consider

  1. Protected Characteristics: As mentioned earlier, landlords cannot discriminate against potential tenants based on protected characteristics such as race, religion, gender, or disability. This applies to all aspects of the rental process, including tenant screening.
  2. Bankruptcy: Discrimination based on a tenant’s bankruptcy history is prohibited by law. It’s essential to assess a tenant’s current financial stability rather than focusing solely on past financial difficulties.
  3. Age: In most cases, landlords cannot discriminate against tenants based on their age. However, certain exceptions may apply in specialized housing for seniors.
  4. Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity: Discrimination based on an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Landlords must treat all potential tenants equally regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  5. Pregnancy: It’s illegal for landlords to deny housing or treat tenants differently based on their pregnancy status. Pregnant tenants should be treated like any other applicant during the tenant screening process.


Tenant screening is a crucial process for landlords to find responsible and reliable tenants. However, it’s equally important to remember the legal boundaries when considering an applicant’s information. Landlords must adhere to fair housing laws to ensure that every potential tenant is treated equally and without discrimination. By understanding what they can and can’t consider during the tenant screening process, landlords can create a fair and inclusive rental environment.

To provide the most comprehensive tenant screening process, landlords should consult local laws and regulations to ensure that they are up to date with any additional considerations specific to their jurisdiction.

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