These are also referred to as Fair Housing Testers. If you are a landlord, you should know what they are and why they are contacting you.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act was passed in 1988. Because of it, landlords are legally prohibited from rejecting a renter’s application due to age, race, sex, religion, or national origin.
For anyone who rents properties, you should be aware that people and groups may apply to ask about renting from you. Their sole purpose is to see if you are employing discriminatory practices in your application process.
Criminal Background Checks
Landlords can and do run criminal background checks on future tenants. But is this method for screening discriminatory?
This is a question that The Department of Housing and Urban Development had to address. Landlords wanted to know more about the people that were going to live on the property. Did the future tenant commit violent acts, destroy property, or illegally sell drugs or weapons?
Maybe the criminal background checks were not discriminatory, but were they indirectly acting as such? HUD references disparate impact theory. It elaborates on things that are not in and of themselves to be discriminatory but can still have the same effect.
For instance, if a landlord had a policy that she would not rent to anyone with red shoes, it doesn’t discriminate against race, sex, or religion. But what if a local church had members who only wore red shoes?
HUD’s guidance to landlords is that it should not impact a protected person if they do background checks. Because disparate impact discrimination is indirect, people can be accused of discrimination without intending to be.
Be Fair & Consistent
If you do not understand the Fair Housing Amendments Act, contact an attorney who works with landlords. There are several ways they can help. You want to ensure that nothing you do is perceived or misunderstood to be an act of discrimination.
There are people who will test you. They are criminal background testers. You may meet them in person, or they could call. Either way, they will pose as potential applicants.
This is where fairness and consistency counts. For instance, how do you respond if someone calls and asks if her background will be an issue? How can you give a definitive answer because you do not know this person, nor have you done a background check? Perhaps you should make a policy that you don’t turn people away unless they have completed an application.
If this is your policy, then simply invite this person to submit a rental application. Then, and only then, will you be able to make an informed decision.
As a landlord, it is your responsibility to act within the law. When you work with Atlas Law, it is our job to ensure you understand how to comply with them. If you are a landlord who needs legal advice about evictions, contact us to schedule a consultation. Atlas Law handles eviction and real estate cases throughout the entire state of Florida.