Tenantbackgroundsearch.com Warns Landlords: Discrimination Prosecution Still Alive and Well

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Tenant Background Search, an online firm specializing in tenant screening services, issues a warning to landlords regarding discrimination practices that can lead to a large fine.

Despite laws, legal assistance, professional organizations and educational forums, Tenant Background Search, an internet firm specializing in tenant qualifying services for landlords, says landlords are still getting fined for discrimination practices, and the fines are hefty.

“In one case,” said Jeff LeVan, spokesperson for the company, “a landlord in Cambridge is being forced to pay $25,000 for discriminating against a family with children because of a requirement to remove lead paint. In another, an Ohio woman was fined more than $100,000 because of requesting a deposit for a therapy dog and because she wouldn’t rent an upstairs apartment to a family with children. In reality, there was no dog or no family, just a state investigative group, but the fine is still being enforced. In yet another, a company in Virginia must pay $82,500 because it wouldn’t rent to a Latino woman who could not speak fluent English.”

“All three of these cases occurred in 2013, and we’re only four months into the year,” said LeVan. He said the best way for landlords to avoid complaints is to be informed, honest and consistent. “Those three guidelines must be present up front, even before the renter is accepted,” said LeVan.

“For instance,” LeVan said, “does the landlord use objective criteria when screening applicants? Or does he/she require a higher credit score for someone with an ethnic last name? If a higher score is required from one person over another, then that is a form of discrimination, whether the reason is gender, religion or ethnicity.    If the landlord has family housing, does he/she balk at single parents? Be very careful here,” he said.

Another opportunity to show fairness up front, according to LeVan, has to do with passing on the background check fee to the applicant. “In some states, there are rules governing how much you can charge the person, and certainly you’ll want to be within the legal scope. However, landlords should ask themselves before collecting the fee if they really intend to rent to this client,” LeVan said.

He said landlords should review the application to see if the applicant meets the landlord’s criteria as self-disclosed. If the landlord knows the person applying does not fall into the parameters of the rental property’s guidelines, then doing the background check is unnecessary. “Why take the applicant’s monies if the person doesn’t qualify?” he asked. “Be fair to the person. If someone doesn’t qualify to rent at your property, it’s likely that it’s due to income. So why would you take their money if they’re already having a difficult time?”

LeVan said whatever landlords do, they definitely should not collect a background fee and keep the money without doing the check. “That’s a form of theft and I do not recommend it,” he said.

“The best policy for landlords is honesty and consistency,” LeVan said. “As simple as that may sound,” said LeVan, “it’s hard to prove unless you can demonstrate it. Imagine a rejected tenant accusing you of discrimination. How do you really defend yourself? How can you prove you treated that candidate like all the others?”

LeVan recommends landlords develop a set of policies based on the law and on objective criteria. That way, they can demonstrate they are treating everyone equally. “In the event there is a charge made against a landlord,” LeVan said, “pulling out files and proving you’re doing what you say you’re doing in all cases is a huge defense.”

Regardless, LeVan contends that if you set the tone for honesty and consistency up front, you will have less issues later on. That, coupled with well-written, legally-based policies that can be proven are being followed will go a long way to avoid fines and penalties.

TenantBackgroundSearch.com is an internet business that performs comprehensive background checks on potential renters to assist landlords in meeting legal requirements as well ensuring accurate financial reports. Report topics include credit, national criminal database, sexual offender database, Patriot Act search, bankruptcy, foreclosures, medical collections, employment summary, known aliases, past addresses and eviction history. Located in Dallas, the firm has a national clientele.

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Jeff LeVan
Tenant Background Search
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