4 Ways To Avoid Tenant Screening Pitfalls With Applicants 

new landlord tenant laws and tenant screening

“I didn’t know” is not an acceptable defense if you face a discrimination charge, so the Grace Hill training tip of the week focuses on some of the tenant screening pitfalls to avoid with applicants for your rentals.

By Ellen Clark

Here are some tips for conducting applicant screening in a way that complies with fair housing law, and makes all people feel welcome in your community and helps you avoid the screening pitfalls.

No. 1 – Think before you speak

It is natural to make friendly conversation with prospects during the application process. This is fine but think carefully about questions you ask or comments you make.

For example asking, “Where is your accent from?” or saying, “You have such an interesting look!” may seem harmless, but could be viewed as discrimination, particularly if you end up rejecting the applicant for some reason.

No. 2 – Know and comply with your state laws and company policies

Applicant screening is an area in which it is particularly important to know and follow your state and local laws. Take the time to educate yourself. “I didn’t know” will not be an acceptable defense should you face a discrimination claim.

Your company should have clear policies and procedures for determining which applicants are accepted to live in your community. Follow these policies and procedures at all times, and apply them uniformly to all applicants.

Make sure all applicants understand selection criteria and related policies and procedures. This will help them see that you don’t choose residents arbitrarily; rather you have a standard process that you follow for all applicants.

No. 3 – Ask for a “government-issued photo ID” rather than a driver’s license specifically

Consult your company’s policies to determine which forms of photo identification are acceptable to verify identity during the application process.

However, be mindful that it is better to ask for a “government-issued photo identification” rather than to ask specifically for a driver’s license.

Not everyone has a driver’s license, and asking for one could be viewed as discriminatory.

No. 4 – Be consistent in all interactions to avoid screening pitfalls

Most importantly, be consistent in all of your interactions with applicants, and follow your company’s policies and procedures in the same way for all applicants.

If you make an exception to any policy or procedure, make sure you provide the same information and options to all applicants who are in the same situation.

Making a habit of treating applicants fairly and equally reduces your risk of discrimination claims and creates a welcoming atmosphere for all people who meet your qualifications and wish to live in your community.


Avoid discrimination within the screening process by carefully considering how you approach your application process.

Claims of discrimination often arise in relation to the applicant screening process. This can be a tricky area to navigate, and one where even well-intentioned people can find themselves on the wrong end of a discrimination claim.

Read Ellen’s full blog post here.


Recent Grace Hill training tips you may have missed:

7 Ways To Stay Out Of Trouble When Checking Criminal History

5 Ways To Protect Applicants, Residents And Employees From Sexual Harassment

Do You Have A Smoke-Free Policy That Adequately Protects Residents?

How To Handle Suspicious Documentation For Assistance Animals

How A No Pet Policy Can Be Discriminatory

Property Management Cyberattack Risks Overlooked, Underestimated

Do You Know How To Respond To a Sexual Harassment Complaint?

Have You Reviewed Your Criminal Background Checks Policy Lately?

Multifamily Managers And Marijuana: Caught In A Pot Crossfire

Fair Housing Discrimination Against Someone You’ve Never Talked To?

About the author:

Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill.  Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leadership and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.

About Grace Hill

For nearly two decades, Grace Hill has been developing best-in-class online training courseware and administration solely for the Property Management Industry, designed to help people, teams and companies improve performance and reduce risk.

Photo credit YakobchukOlena via istockphoto.com